Research is creating new knowledge.
Scholarship as Conversation
Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.
Research in scholarly and professional fields is exciting and requires that ideas are formulated, debated, and weighed against one another over an extended time. Instead of seeking specific answers to complex problems, experts and scholars understand that a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives as part of an ongoing conversation in which information users and creators come together and negotiate meaning.
Scholars understand that, though some topics have established answers through this process, a query may have more than one uncontested answer. Researchers are inclined to seek out many perspectives, not just the ones with which they are familiar. These perspectives might be in their own discipline or profession or may be in other fields. Even though student learners and experts at all levels can take part in the conversation, established power and authority structures may influence their ability to participate and can privilege certain voices and information.
Community College students must develop familiarity with the sources of evidence, methods, and modes of discourse in the field in order to enter the conversation. New forms of scholarly and research conversations provide more avenues in which a wide variety of individuals may have a voice in the conversation. Providing attribution to relevant previous research (e.g. citing one's sources) is also an obligation of participation in the conversation. It enables the conversation to move forward and strengthens one’s voice in the conversation (ACRL Framework 2015).
Searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. This process involves inquiry, discovery, and serendipity as you being to identify possible relevant sources and the means to access those sources. Scholars and information experts realize that information searching is a contextualized, complex experience that affects, and is affected by, the searcher’s cognitive, affective, and social dimensions. When first starting to search for information, many community college students may search a limited set of resources, while experts may generally search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. While novice learners tend to use few search strategies; experts select from various search strategies, depending on the sources, scope, and context of the information need.
The Research Process is Iterative
Researching is often an iterative process: it requires some repetition of steps. Comedian Stephen Colbert would use the word "frequentative" ̶ it requires frequent and repeated action to get closest to the best sources of information.
This diagram illustrates the steps in the research process. Starting in the lower right corner and moving clockwise through each step:
Research in Steps
1. Plan. You need a topic and some good keywords.
2. Search library databases. Your topic determines which databases you should search.
3. Read what you find.
4. Extract new search terms and gain a better understanding of your topic.
5. Repeat until you've got what you need. You should get closer with each iteration.
Librarians at the McCarthy Library have created a way for you to record your iterative journey. As you begin to research your topic, keeping a journal (Journal.pdf) will help you to keep track of your progress and serve as a record of your search history. As you plan, you'll want to make a record of the keywords and subject headings you use. If you would like more help in learning about and developing your research strategy, consider taking a Library Student Success Workshop at the McCarthy Library. Ask a Librarian at the Reference Desk for more details!
Choosing a Topic
It is difficult to do efficient research if the topic is not well defined. Advice from former students is to "pick a topic you are interested in because you will spend a lot of time learning about it." Usually research is most successful when you choose a broad topic and use what you learn about it to narrow it to a more specific topic.
Santa Rosa Junior College Library has come up with a great list of topics for research papers. Likewise, Santa Ana College has developed a controversial topics list which includes organizations presenting pro and con positions on each issue. Santa Monica Community College also has a helpful list of topics for research papers with links to each that take you to a list of synonyms and related terms that might help you formulate a working thesis.
Although this might be jumping ahead to Unit 4, Napa Valley College's McCarthy Library subscribes to Points of View database. You can browse by category or enter a search term into the search field. This is also a helpful tool for deciding which topic to choose for a research paper. This database will provide you with articles covering both sides of the issue.
copyright 2015 Napa Valley College
updated April 2015, by Nancy McEnery, Reference Librarian-Instructor