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 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.
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:
*Consult the University Writing Center's Guidelines for Writing in the Disciplines for more information - each major at AppState is listed.
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.
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..
Trade / Professional 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.
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.
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
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:
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.
Here is a short video courtesy of NCSU that offers general context on evaluation of information.
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.
The Research Advisory Program (RAP) provides one-on-one research assistance for students. Sessions are conducted in person, by phone, or online.
Unsure how to get started? Consider these questions:
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