"I'm writing a paper on World War II."
Often students start their research with a very general topic, even though they may realize the topic is too large to deal with in a 10-15 page paper. Faculty and librarians tell them, "You have to narrow this down." But how do you narrow a topic?
You can combine these ideas, "What were the major impacts of WWII on women in France, in the decade after the war?"
More ideas in our brief tutorial on topic selection and narrowing.
Choose a topic.
Do a brain dump: Note down what you already know about your topic, including
Fill in the gaps in your knowlege: get background information from encyclopedias or other secondary sources. Wikipedia can be good here.
Select the best places/ databases to find information on your topic. Look under the History Databases tab of this guide for article database suggestions. Or use a catalog like Oskicat or Melvyl to search for books and other resources.
Use nouns from your brain dump as search terms.
Evaluate what you find. Change search terms to get closer to what you really want.
Refine Your Topic - Using the information you have gathered, determine if your research topic should be narrower or broader. You may need to search basic resources again using your new, focused topics and keywords.
Take a look this short tutorial on beginning your research for more ideas.
"It's all free on the Internet, right?" "Why should I go through the library's website to find sources for my paper?"
The Web is a great source for free, publicly available information, but not for thousands of electronic books, journal articles, and scholarly resources that are available only to the campus community. Resources like Lexis-Nexis, Web of Science, Academic Search Complete, and ARTstor are "invisible" to Google. You will not see results from these databases in the results of a Google search.*
Through the Library website, you can access hundreds of different licensed databases containing journal articles, electronic books, maps, images, government and legal information, current and historical newspapers, digitized primary sources, and more.Read more
To use library databases from off campus you have to set up the proxy server: this changes your browser settings.
Please note: this course guide was created during a previous semester, and is no longer being actively maintained. For a list of current course guides, please see http://lib.berkeley.edu/alacarte/course-guides.
Watch a 40 second video on how to search Literature Research Center.
Watch a 30 second video on how to search JSTOR.
Before you can access Library resources from off campus make sure you have configured your computer with proxy server settings.
After you make a one-time change in your web browser settings, the proxy server will ask you to log in with a CalNet ID or Library PIN when you click on the link to a licensed resource.
Your instructor may want you to use "peer reviewed" articles as sources for your paper. Or you may be asked to find "academic," "scholarly," or "refereed" articles. What do these terms mean?
Let's start with the terms academic and scholarly, which are synonyms. An academic or scholarly journal is one intended for a specialized or expert audience. Journals like this exist in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Examples include Nature, Journal of Sociology, and Journal of American Studies. Scholarly/academic journals exist to help scholars communicate their latest research and ideas to each other; they are written "by experts for experts."
Most scholarly/academic journals are peer reviewed; another synonym for peer reviewed is refereed. Before an article is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it's evaluated for quality and significance by several specialists in the same field, who are "peers" of the author. The article may go through several revisions before it finally reaches publication.
Magazines like Time or Scientific American, newspapers, (most) books, government documents, and websites are not peer-reviewed, though they may be thoroughly edited and fact-checked. Articles in scholarly journals (in printed format or online) usually ARE peer-reviewed.
How can you tell if an article is both scholarly and peer-reviewed?Read more
Use OskiCat to locate materials related to your topic, including books, government publications, and audio and video recordings, in the libraries of UC Berkeley. OskiCat will show you the location and availability of the items that we own.
Use Melvyl to locate materials related to your topic located at other campuses in the UC system. Next Generation Melvyl also allows you to expand your search to libraries worldwide. Clicking on the REQUEST button in the detailed view of a catalog record prompt you to fill out a form to request the item through our Interlibrary Loan office.
A large part of the library's collection is stored off campus in an environmentally secure building called the Northern Regional Library Facility [NRLF].
Submit online requests via the REQUEST button in OskiCat to borrow material shelved at NRLF. To receive electronic or paper copies of book chapters or journal articles, submit an online request via the "Request an article from NRLF (photocopy or web delivery)" link that appears in eligible titles in OskiCat. Staff at public service desks of any campus library can assist you with further questions.
Log in to Request with your Calnet ID and fill out the screens. Choose the volume you want, for periodicals:
Citation management tools help you manage your research, collect and cite sources, and create bibliographies in a variety of citation styles. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, but any are easier than doing it by hand!
It's always good to double check the formatting -- sometimes the software doesn't get it quite right.Using APA 6th? Purdue has produced this very handy quick guide. The fulltext of APA 6th is not available online, but we do have print copies in the EdPsych Library in reference and short term reserve at BF76.7 P83 2010
"There are no dumb questions!"
That's the philosophy of reference librarians, who are here to save you time and trouble. If you get stuck, you can talk to a reference librarian at any campus library.
Library catalogs and article databases offer several ways to narrow or broaden, or otherwise control your search. Below are common methods; if they don't work, look for a "Help" link!
Most default to a quick keyword search (somewhat like Google) that assumes you want items containing all the words you type.
Most let you truncate a word with a wildcard symbol (usually * ) to get plurals and other variant forms.
passion* gets passion, passions, passionate
Most offer an Advanced Search with more options, such as searching on an author's name, or words in a title.
REFINING YOUR SEARCH
If your search retrieves too many items, use more specific terms, or put in additional keywords.
gets fewer items than love shakespeare
love poetry shakespeare
gets fewer items than love shakespeare
If your search gets too few items, use more general terms or remove some keywords.
You can also combine terms with OR to get more items.
love OR eros
gets items containing either term.
FINDING RELATED ITEMS
In library catalogs and most article databases, click on the title of an interesting item and look in the detailed display for links (blue underlined text). These may include the author's name, "Subjects" or "Subject headings". Clicking on one of these links will do a search for items tagged the same way.
Many catalogs and databases allow you to save items to a list/folder/etc. and e-mail, print or download the citation. Some will allow you to output citations in a particular citation style (ex: MLA or Chicago).
More questions? Our FAQs may help.
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