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RC 2001 (new): RC 2001 Research Guide

Tutorials, tips, and resources for RC 2001 assignments

About & Table of Contents

About This Guide

This guide is designed to support research assignments in RC 2001. It contains tutorials, handouts, how to get help, and more to support your journey to a successful project. The left column contains context and instruction about each part of the research process. The right contains links to support resources.

Table of Contents - Main Column

Table of Contents - Right Column

Discourse Communities and Research

Discourse Communities and Research

Discourse refers to an exchange of ideas through written or spoken communication. Academic discourse is the use of speech and writing to construct and disseminate knowledge in educational institutions, from schools to higher educational establishments such as universities. Engagement in academic discourse also constructs the identity of the author or speaker as “a scholar” and negotiates his or her status within the academic community. A discourse community is a group of people who share certain characteristics and interests and, as a result of ongoing communications within that group, share language practices for communicating the group’s goals. A discourse community may describe a group of people with common interests or a group of people who use highly technical language; any group that uses a common language to communicate the group’s goals may be defined as a discourse community.

Examples and Implications for Your Research

In the academic world, discourse communities are usually defined by field and subfield. That means that the discourse community of geology represents the common scholarly conversation that takes place among geologists. If an audiologist entered into their conversation (or picked up one of their journals), it’s likely that many of the terms and concepts would be unfamiliar, and a geologist would have the same problems in a conversation about audiology. Getting a grasp on your academic discourse community and its conventions is the first step to becoming a successful researcher in your field.

Just as discourse communities have specialized vocabularies and standards, different discourse communities pursue different kinds of questions. Let’s take a big problem like global climate change and focus on Alaska. An environmental scientist, a pathologist, an economist, and an anthropologist would raise different kinds of questions about the same problem:

  • The environmental scientist would ask questions like: how much has the water risen since we last checked? How have the increasing temperatures and rising water levels affected the vegetation and animal life?
  • A pathologist would take a different approach: what new diseases have emerged in correlation with global climate change?
  • Economists would ask how global climate change is affecting the economic situation in Alaska. How has the lumber or the fishing industry been affected by global climate change? How has global climate change affected tourism?
  • An anthropologist might ask how global climate change is affecting the ways of life of certain indigenous groups.

*Consult the University Writing Center's Guidelines for Writing in the Disciplines for more information - each major at AppState is listed.

Putting This into Practice

Because questions vary significantly from discipline to discipline and from field to field, it is important that you assess your questions according to the discourse community you are writing within. Once you’ve selected a major, one way to develop a sense of the types of questions posed in your selected discipline is to read articles published in that field. For example, read a few of articles published in the field and identify the questions these articles raise at the beginning of the texts. Of course, these questions are not always explicitly stated, so identifying an article’s motivating questions might take some work. Write the questions out, make a list of defining characteristics, and assess your own questions next to this list. Also, pay attention to the documentation style the authors use in the articles to cite and share their research - this is another important component of your discourse community. Community members use an agreed upon style unique to that discipline, though sometimes related disciplines may use the same style.

*Consult the University Writing Center's Documentation Guidelines page for a list of common styles and accompanying guidelines.

Sources: Credo Reference | Lumen Learning Open Course | Salem Press Encyclopedia

Source Types

Source Types

Primary, secondary, popular, scholarly, trade - what do these labels mean? And which of these are the most appropriate for your research? Each type of source serves a unique purpose and could be useful for your research question.

Primary and secondary are broad categories of sources. Primary sources provide a first-hand account of an event or time period and are considered to be authoritative. Secondary sources involve analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of primary sources. Watch this brief video for more.

Identifying additional types of articles involves analysis of the article's content and as well gaining more awareness about the publication and author. The chart below is meant to help you in this process; however, any one criteria by itself may not indicate that an article is scholarly, etc.. 


Journal Cover  Image result for scholarly journal cover  

Scholarly Journals

Image result for trade magazine cover    

Trade / Professional Magazines

Magazine Cover 

  Popular Magazines

Length Longer articles (often 10+ pages), providing in-depth analysis  Mid-length articles (often 2-8 pages), providing practical guidance Shorter articles (often <1-5 pages), providing broader overviews
Author An expert or specialist in the field (often a professor), name and credentials always provided Usually someone working in the field, with hands-on experience; some staff writers Usually a staff writer or a journalist, name and credentials often not provided
Language Professional language, jargon, theoretical terms Some jargon and technical terms Non-technical language 
Likely Audience  Scholarly readers (professors, researchers or students) Other people working in the industry  Anyone
Advertisements Few or none Some -- products to sell to practitioners in that industry Many -- products for the general public
Format/Structure Usually structured, with likely sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography Sometimes has sub-sections for organization No specific format or structure
Special Features Illustrations that support the text, such as tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs Some illustrations; practical guidelines, best practices, lesson plans, how-to, or other hands-on direction Glossy/color illustrations or graphics, usually for advertising purposes
Editors Reviewed and critically evaluated by several editors. Often refereed or peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Editorial board of other practitioners or professionals in the field, but no external peer review Not evaluated by experts in the field, but by editors or other journalists on staff
Credits Bibliography (works cited) and/or footnotes are always present to document research Usually no formal bibliography, although references to other research are often mentioned in-text No bibliography, although references to other research are sometimes mentioned in-text

Chart reused with permission from University of Wisconsin Whitewater's Andersen Library.

Accessing and Using Research Tools

Accessing and Using Research Tools                            

Google Scholar

You've likely used Google - many students use it as a starting point for research. Google Scholar is the academic version of Google. Here is link to the coverage of Google Scholar. Below are some links to tips and strategies on how to get the most out of Google Scholar. 

Library Databases

In RC 2001, move beyond APPsearch and into our subject-specific databases. Databases are collections of research - the library provides access to many, some are multidisciplinary and some are specific to certain fields. And all are accessible 24/7 from off-campus as long as you know your App State username and password. Search interfaces may vary from database to database but they all have similar features that you can leverage to get exactly what you want. Where do you go from here?

Option 1: General research topic searching in subject-specific databases

  1. Click here to access all of App State's online databases (link opens in new window). Note the different categories (Type, Name, and Subject).
  2. Click the subject closest to your major to reveal a list of databases in that field.
  3. Choose a database and start searching (don't forget to have a robust list of search terms to try). 

Some databases offer search result "filters" or "limiters." This includes filtering results by criteria like Academic Journals or Trade Publications.

Option 2: Find trade or scholarly journals in your field and search within them:

  1. Use the handout (below) to navigate Google Scholar in order to find scholarly publications in your field.
  2. Then, search the titles of those journals or articles in APPsearch. Here are directions on how to do that (link opens in new window).

Evaluating Your Sources

Evaluating Your Sources 

Now that you’ve started finding sources, you’ll need to evaluate them before committing to them, but this doesn’t have to be time consuming. Just ask yourself two questions: Is this source trustworthy? And is this source suitable? Not every suitable source is trustworthy, and not every trustworthy source is suitable. Also, when dealing with scholarly sources, there are even more criteria to consider like metrics.

Determining Suitability
Your task as a researcher is to determine the appropriateness of the information your source contains for your particular research project. Consider the following: will this source help me answer the research questions that I am posing in my project? Will it help me learn as much as I can about my topic? Will it help me write an interesting, convincing essay for my readers? 

Determining Trustworthiness (or Credibility)
Trustworthiness of sources may not be as easy to determine, especially if you’re doing research on the open web, aren’t paying attention, or haven’t checked your own biases at the door. Pay attention to things like:

  • When the source was published or last updated - look for the most recent research on your topic but newer isn’t always better. Depending on the topic, it’s fine to consult older material.
  • The degree of bias in the source - is the author making an attempt to stay objective and include various points of view or is s/he/they pushing a point of view for other reasons?
  • Whether or not the author supports what they’re saying with evidence - if the author is making lots of claims without citing them, consider looking for something else. Source

Here is a short video courtesy of NCSU that offers general context on evaluation of information.

Impact Factors and Citations Count (excerpted from USC Libraries)

How does the scientific community measure how "good" or "great" a journal or an author is? How do you determine the "impact" of an author's work? Should it be purely based on the number of times the article is cited? If not, how can we measure the "quality" of the research?

Several methods to calculate the impact of an article, journal, or author have been developed answer these questions. These calculations and statistical methods are called metrics. Be aware: metrics are highly debated. The most popular metrics include: number of citations (journal or author), journal impact factor, and author h-index. There are hundreds of other metrics available, some better defined than others. 

*For more on how these metrics work and how you can use them, take a look at this guide from the USC Libraries.

Magnifying glass image source.

Belk Library Homepage

Belk Library Homepage, link opens in new window

Research Advisory Program

Research Advisory Program

The Research Advisory Program (RAP) provides one-on-one research assistance for students. Sessions are conducted in person, by phone, or online.

Tips for Finding Articles

Tips for Finding Articles

Unsure how to get started? Consider these questions:

  • What do you already know about your major? Why are you pursuing it? Your particular interest might be useful as the subject of a preliminary search and may result in finding some useful sources.
  • Think about a 'big problem' that is specific to your field and is of interest to you. Search for sources about it - chances are, there is a sub-field of people researching and writing about that problem. 
  • Or, think about a 'big problem' that is affecting society. How are people in your field (practitioners or scholars) addressing it, practically or theoretically? Consider the example on this guide about how different areas study climate change. Translate that into your context.

RC 2001 Resources

RC 2001 Resources

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University Writing Center

Additional University Resources

Open Web Resources

First Year Experience Librarian

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Mark Coltrain
Belk Library, 140B