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EP 04: How To Do Effective Academic Research & Boolean Searches

Welcome back to our Weekly Live Show and Fourth Episode of The Homework Help Show! In this episode, we discussed how to do effective academic research, how to gather your primary and secondary sources, doing boolean searches, and more. Our Host Cath Anne continues to provide value that will help you in your studies for many years to come!

The Homework Help Show is our brand new show where we will teach, assist, and offer valuable insights on different topics related to students’ academic and personal lives. Want your questions answered? Ask your questions on social media using the hashtag #askHHG


Cath Anne: [00:00:05] For any of you who don’t know me, my name is Cath Anne and I am the weekly host of Homework Help Global’s “The Learning Studio”. I can’t believe it, but this is our fourth episode. It’s so hard to believe. Last week we talked a little bit about thesis statements and how to write them appropriately.

Cath Anne: [00:00:30] I’m just going to adjust my camera here for a minute. (To Instagram Viewer): Hi, The Neighbourly Consultant, Hi, Coach Kaur. You guys are getting to be regulars. Nice to see you.

Cath Anne: [00:00:45] So I was just introducing our topic for this week and the topic is how to do effective research. This week’s topic goes along with our topic from last week: how to write an effective thesis statement.

Cath Anne: [00:01:05] I know that things are starting to pick up here with school and most programs require you to write at least one essay. I know that some programs are more weighted in exams as opposed essays and other programs are weighted to essays. Are any of you students currently or did you take programs that were more weighted towards exams or essays?

Cath Anne: [00:02:05] I know that when I was in school I wrote a lot of essays because I was in sociology and social work. So we didn’t have as many exams we did have some when I first started university but it was definitely a lot more essays than it was then it was exams. I’m just a little bit distracted because I want to make sure that I’m still live on Facebook.

Cath Anne: [00:02:56] So this week I wanted to jump in and start talking about academic research and how to do it effectively if that is helpful for folks. First I want to talk about why academic sources are important. Can anyone give me a sense of why academic sources are pertinent when you’re doing research?

Cath Anne: [00:03:31] Well, academic sources are really important because we want to be spreading research that is valid.

Cath Anne: [00:03:40] When we are talking about research we want to make sure that we are resorting to credible resources for the sources of our information.

Cath Anne: [00:03:49] And that is why professors are, I guess I would call them sticklers, when it comes to using credible resources.

Cath Anne: [00:03:58] They often want academic and peer-reviewed articles. That’s what they always request when they are looking for academic papers. Basically your essay is only as good as the sources that you’re using. That’s why I wanted to discuss academic resources. Academic resources can be broken down into two major categories. There are primary resources and then secondary resources.

Cath Anne: [00:04:37] Can anyone chime in with what primary resources are?

Cath Anne: [00:04:50] Primary resources are sources of raw data. So those are interviews, those are information from archives. They are pieces of raw data, like letters, diaries, pieces of art, anything that people create, maps, and meeting minutes. Primary sources are not going to be resources that you’ll use regularly if you’re in an undergraduate program. Although maybe when you get into third and fourth year and you start doing a bit more in-depth research if you’re in a history major you might start looking at archives and investigating some information there. If you’re in sociology courses you might start to do some research in terms of gathering data through interviews, which would also be considered primary data.

Cath Anne: [00:05:50] In sum, primary sources are raw data and secondary sources are probably what we are most familiar with as students and those are resources that have already been developed and they’ve already gone through the process of peer review.

Cath Anne: [00:06:13] For example, secondary sources are journal articles, chapters, and scholarly books, monograph textbooks, encyclopedias, and even some websites could be considered secondary sources.

Cath Anne: [00:06:29] Secondary sources are often a compilation of primary sources with a little bit of additional research. When you’re writing a paper in an undergraduate degree you will be using secondary sources. In this case when you are beginning your research you will certainly want to make sure that your resources are academic so you’re not just going to want to jump on the Internet just type something into Google and think that is a reputable source. I’m sure most people are aware of that and if not I’m sure that your professors have told you that. However, sometimes it can be tempting because we do have information readily at our fingertips all the time these days. Make sure that it is an academic source. Let’s discuss some information about how to determine what an academic source is.

Cath Anne: [00:07:23] First off, you’ll want to be looking for the words ‘peer-reviewed’. peer-reviewed means that it has gone through a rigorous process of review. In other words, people who are in academia and who do research are subject to scrutiny by their peers. And that’s basically what peer review means. When someone goes to submit something to a journal they go through a whole process of determining whether their research was valid; whether their methodology was valid; whether or how they presented it was appropriate; and they might have to go back and review it and change some things. That is the process of determining whether something is a valid source of information or not. When you’re doing research for your papers, you’ll want to make sure that you’re only accessing academic articles that have been peer-reviewed.

Cath Anne: [00:08:29] In order to determine whether something is peer-reviewed you want to make sure that you’re sourcing it from a database where peer-reviewed articles are available.

Cath Anne: [00:08:39] For example, you’ll go on the database you’ll use the journal search. Make sure that the journal that you’re drawing the information from provides only peer-reviewed articles.

Cath Anne: [00:09:00] Usually when you’ll be using a database that is provided by universities so it is most likely that you will have access to reputable sources. Most of the articles that are those databases are going to be peer-reviewed. However, you’re going to want to make sure of that. Go into the journal itself and look to make sure that they do go through a peer review process.

Cath Anne: [00:09:43] When you go into your database search you will see (probably over on the right side) that there will be different options that you can choose to filter your search. You should be able to click peer-reviewed articles. When you do your search use the filter ‘only peer-reviewed articles’ and just peer-reviewed articles will come up. In that way you can be certain that anything that you’re using in your paper is a peer-reviewed article. Although I said that you shouldn’t just jump on Google and do your search.

Cath Anne: [00:10:27] Google does have an option called Google Scholar where you can search scholarly articles. If you do use this function you’re going to want to make sure that your search is still a peer-reviewed source.

Cath Anne: [00:10:54] How do you determine that? Well, you can go to the actual journal and make certain that the your journal that you’re sourcing from goes through a peer review process. Then you can kind of do your own investigative piece.

Cath Anne: [00:11:17] In order to do this, look at the research article and question whether it is a research article. Ask the following questions: Has research been done? Has this research been conducted by the authors of the article? If so, generally, that means that it has gone through a peer review process. Also, most research papers have a front sheet that will demonstrate or determine that they are from peer-reviewed journals.

Cath Anne: [00:12:42] As a general tip, definitely don’t rush the research process depending on how long. Depending on how long your paper is going to be you’re probably going to want to gather some information over the course of a couple of weeks at least and then narrow it down.

Cath Anne: [00:13:09] Another important aspect to consider is narrowing your search. What I mean by that is perhaps when you’re doing your search you’re looking at a database and you don’t necessarily know what words you’re looking for. For example, I’m doing research on homelessness amongst women in Canada.

Cath Anne: [00:14:13] I’m going to want to type in my key words so I’m going to type in homeless women and feminism because I want to do my research through a feminist lens. I’ll type in all of those words and I’ll see what comes up. I’ll see what information is available on that topic and then I might draw some words from those descriptions. For example, say some other words like social justice, social work, housing, and poverty start to come up amongst the articles I find. I’ll use those words to do further my research from there. My kind of approach when I’m doing a bigger paper is I like to start somewhere. I start with my topic and gather information on that topic gather using relevant literature. I’ll read that over. I’ll use that information to frame my research from there.

Cath Anne: [00:15:31] Sometimes a good way to start is to do an initially search on Google Scholar and not in a database. This will give you an opportunity to see what information is out there on the topic. You won’t always know what a database is going to have or retrieve around specific words. So you want to be open to using different language to get the resources that you want and not give up on your search. Don’t be satisfied with subpar resources. Make sure that you’re getting the best information that you think you can.

Cath Anne: [00:17:10] When you are determining if something is an appropriate resource you’re also going to want to make sure that it’s not a book review. However, book reviews can be helpful, but they cannot be used as academic sources. As I mentioned when you are doing research it’s important to see what’s out there. I find book reviews can sometimes be helpful to understand those in-depth concepts about more academic and scholarly books because they provide a breakdown and a bit of an analysis of that dense information.

Cath Anne: [00:18:01] If your professor is asking for seven to 10 resources or references make sure that you are aware that a book review would not count as one of those resources.

Cath Anne: [00:18:36] When you’re writing a research paper, you want to make sure that you bear in mind that it’s not just a gathering of information. Make sure that you are forming an argument or statement about the information you retrieve. Make sure that you understand the content of your research so that you can form an argument around it.

Cath Anne: [00:19:24] OK. Let’s talk specifically about subject headings and key words. When you open a database you’ll see a drop down menu with various options. You’ll usually have: title, keyword, subject, author.

Cath Anne: [00:20:09] Sorry that’s my cat. I forgot to put him away. Sorry about that everyone. OK.

Cath Anne: [00:20:18] So you want to use the subject headings to describe the content in a database. Subject headings are the best way that you are going to be able to get information and do a good search. When you’re looking at the drop down menu either make sure that you’re clicking keyword or subject headings and those are going to get the best, most accurate information that you’re looking for. As I mentioned too, you’re not always going to know what a database is going to bring up so that’s why it’s good to do multiple searches using various key words. For example, think of a database as a search in a phonebook or in the yellow pages.

Cath Anne: [00:21:35] But who has a phonebook or Yellow Pages anymore? Haha. Pretend you’re searching for ‘movie theaters’ in the book but you can’t find anything under the title of movie theaters. However, then you realize that it’s actually under the title ‘theaters movie’.

Cath Anne: [00:21:57] When you’re looking in a database you’re going to want to use different words and different language as you continue to do your research and modify your searches because you don’t know what’s going to come up in which database.

Cath Anne: [00:22:18] The next topic I wanted to discuss is Boolean operators. I’m not going to go too in-depth with this just because it can get quite extensive. But I did want to do a bit of an overview of it just because it’s important to discuss when you’re talking about academic research.

Cath Anne: [00:22:43] Does anyone know what I’m referring to when I say that? Boolean operators are use to connect and define the relationship between your search terms. Basically when you’re searching an academic or electronic database you can use these words to either narrow your search or broaden your search.

Cath Anne: [00:23:23] The three Boolean operators are super simple. They are: ‘and’, ‘or’and ‘not’. The word ‘and’ can be used to narrow your search. When you use the word ‘and’ all of your search terms will appear in your search. So for example, I want to do a search on online courses and academic performance and I want both of those terms to come up. I would use the word ‘and’ so I’ll just show you a little Venn diagram that I have done up here. Basically I have one circle that says academic performance and one circle that says online courses and in the middle. We will have all of the articles that have both of those terms in them. It will also bring up all the information on both of those terms.

Cath Anne: [00:24:42] ‘And’ is used to in order to narrow your search. If you want to broaden your search, you to use the word ‘or’. For example, if we are doing the same search we can say: online courses ‘or’ web based instruction ‘or’ distance learning. The search will bring up all the information using all of those words. Where as ‘and’ narrows the search down and limits your search, ‘or’ expands the search so it retrieves all the unique records containing one of those terms or both of those terms. You can also use the word ‘not’, if there’s something that you don’t want to include in your search. So say you want to do a search specifically on higher education and only on university not college. You would put in your search higher education ‘not’ community college. Hopefully your search would only bring up information about universities. At least it wouldn’t bring up information about community colleges. OK. So that’s just a very basic and brief example of Boolean searches, but they can go much more in-depth. Actually there was one more thing I wanted to discuss. Bear in mind that if you are using Google Scholar, the program puts the word ‘and’ automatically in-between every word that you search. Even if you don’t say the word ‘and’ it’s still automatically inserted. For example if you were trying to search something about college students and test anxiety if you put that directly into Google it would be translated to: college and students and test and anxiety. This is not what you want. In order to get the accurate search you’ll want to put parentheses around the groups of words that you want to stay together. For example, you want to put (college students) ‘and’ (test anxiety). It suggests to the search algorithm that you want those groups of words to be placed together.

Cath Anne: [00:31:45] Let’s move on to a brief discussion of how to use Google Scholar. In my own research and in my time as a student I found that Google Scholar was a helpful resource for preliminary research. Now while I would recommend using other academic databases, of course, and the ones that are provided by your university, Google Scholar can be a really good basis to start your research and see what’s out there.

Cath Anne: [00:32:18] As I was discussing earlier you can start a preliminary literature review using Google Scholar. Basically you can use all of those techniques that I described such as the Boolean search keywords all in Google Scholar. You can just type everything into the search bar.

Cath Anne: [00:32:43] After searching you should find a host of various resources and then you can also link to if you do have access to a university database you usually can access scholarly articles through your institution. You’ll bring it up on Google Scholar and then it’ll have a log in option that will bring you back to your school’s institutional database and then you can log in through there. Another unique aspect that I really like about Google Scholar is that it has a little drop down menu, which you can use to cite the article.

Cath Anne: [00:33:57] You can also extract that citation and put it into your school’s database. If you are not able to log in externally so you can take that and bring it over to your database and log in external or not logging externally log in through your database and access that resource.

Cath Anne: [00:35:28] There are various resources that you can access to make sure that you’re getting scholarly articles. You can use Google Scholar; you can go online through your own school’s database and make sure that you are using those Boolean terms. Make sure you’re using the subject and the description boxes to do your searches because those are the keyword boxes, which bring up the most relevant resources. From there, get started on doing your research. Don’t leave your research till the very end. Enjoy the process of researching. I know that does sound a little bit nerdy but the way I think of doing research is that it is a skill that you can carry with you throughout your life.

Cath Anne: [00:36:24] It is a valuable skill that you can draw on and you never know when an agency or an organization is going to need someone to do research. That’s what I’ve found in my own career is that having research skills is invaluable and that it can transfer to basically any career. So it’s a good thing to put on your resume and it’s a good skill to bring to a job in the future as well. It helps you get good grades while you are in school as a student.

Cath Anne: [00:36:53] Just before I sign off I wanted to just remind you that if you are starting to have a little bit of difficulty in school or you’re feeling a little bit of the pressure of writing papers let me remind you that Homework Help Global does provide you with some support for academic essay writing. We can do editing; we can provide you with professional academic writing services, so that is something that is always available to you. Please give us a shout on Facebook on Instagram and on Twitter. Give us a shout if you do need any help and let us know how we can help you at all as we do have many qualified writers who are willing and able to help you out. I know it’s starting to get crunch time so we’d love to help you.

Cath Anne: [00:37:57] I guess that’s it for this week. To sign off again, my name is Cath Anne. Thank you again for the regulars for joining me and I hope you all have a lovely evening. We’ll let you know the next topic for the Livestream as the week goes on. So stay tuned to Facebook and Instagram and let us know of any topics that come up throughout the week. You can access us on like I said Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and on our website. Use the hash tag #askHHG in order to ask us any questions as they might arise.

Cath Anne: [00:38:50] We would love to hear from you and I really want to answer more of your questions so let us know what you’re interested in hearing about and we will design a show around what you guys want to hear. All right thank you so much for joining me and have a great evening.