Research Project Questions and Answers from Previous Semesters


1)  I came up with a lot of questions for this research project that I would like to find.  Is that okay if I have a lot of questions?  

Absolutely!  Just try to rank them in some kind of order based on how much the answers will benefit you and how likely it is you'll find them.  Throw out the ones that are not so helpful or are very unlikely to be found, and seek answers to the  very useful questions whose sources are very likely to be findable.  That will keep you focused while you're on the hunt.

2)  And also what exactly is due this Friday for the research project? And then next Friday, is it an actual paper or what?

For the conferences, you need just the description of what information you are looking for, how you will use it in your paper, where you have looked for it and how you looked (databases searched and search terms used), and anything you already have found. 

        For the written report due next Friday, you should format it like any other paper, only probably it will be shorter (unless you’ve been short-changing the rough draft conferences!).  You aren't trying to persuade your readers about much.  You only are reporting the results of a focused investigation to answer a specific question.  The intro should introduce the information (data or expert opinion or both) and explain why your paper's best readers need it.  The body should explain what you are doing to answer it.  That is the most important part of this report, because it tells me what you have learned about college-level research sources and strategies.  Finally, tell me what you discovered (with a proper Works Cited section) and give me one example of how the information you have retrieved will improve the paper.  Be careful to support the authority of any source (in your text or in an endnote) if your best readers are not likely to accept it as expert based on the Works Cited information, alone.

3)  Dear Prof. Sanders,


      I just came back from the library and I am having some difficulty finding information for my research paper.  I want to do my report on the killing power of a .45 caliber automatic as compared with other weapons a gunshop owner might have available to them (second half of question # 6).  I have looked under OLLI, PAIS, EbscoHost, National Newspapers Abstracts, ERIC, and under various sections of WILSONWeb.  What other resources can I look under?  Is there a certain heading I should try?  I have looked under key words such as: guns, gunshots, injuries due to gunshots, .45 caliber weapons, and automatic weapon.   

            Your search vocabulary is not entirely out of line, but you are missing some far more familiar key words that would be likely to show up in titles, headlines, and subject codes.  For instance, "handgun," ""gun"" (not "guns"--the search engine is so dumb that it won't find "gun" if you search for "guns"), firearm and firearms (more likely scholarly usage), "pistol," "self protection," "self defense," etc.  Until you've entered those keywords into the search, I wouldn't give up hope.

            Also, what kind of search are you conducting?  In OLLI, for instance, it can be a "keyword" search, a "subject" search, a "title" search, etc.  I would start with keyword, but the Library of Congress subject headings probably include something coded for this kind of issue.  Remember how powerful LoC Subject categories are.  They have been built by real human beings as a search aid, and as articles and books are indexed, they are categorized by LoC Subject, again by real human beings.  The result is like taping the power of a team of research assistants who have been laboring for years to serve your inquiry.

            Some of these sources are extremely good (OLLI, EbscoHost, and WilsonWeb), but others would be not so good or extremely unlikely, such as ERIC, which only indexes education-related issues.  Your decision to use them suggests you may have been operating "on automatic," just going through the motions we suggested because you were beginning to lose faith in your ability to find anything.  Try to check your internal emotional state before restarting again.  Researchers have to develop a tough inner barrier against boredom or despair.

            Try out your imagination on this problem.  Who else, other than a scholar trying to write a paper, might be asking about this topic?  Since this is the kind of question that might well be asked by a consumers who were searching for an alternative to blowing big holes in their neighbors, you also might take it to that great commercial information source, the Internet.  I'd be surprised if either scholarly or popular sources aren't available to help that person find ways to limit violence to reasonable levels.  Just remember to evaluate your sources for quality before you trust them enough to use them, and present that evidence of quality in an endnote if the source is not peer reviewed.

            Finally, you have overlooked one very important human source of help.  I see no mention of your having asked any of the library's trained bibliographic research staff for assistance.  That's a crucial step.  They're "intelligent" in precisely the ways the online search engines like EbscoHost are "dumb."  The trained human beings can understand your intentions in asking the questions, and can suggest other ways to ask or other sources of which to ask the questions.