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- 9.3 Basic Guidelines for Research in Academic Databases
In one table, he had a row for every source he read.
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The row contained all of the relevant bibliographic information and was labeled with a unique source identifier number. In another table, he entered every quote from these sources that he thought provided insight. These might include, for example, a few lines from a letter he found in the Martin Luther King Jr. Each quote got its own row in the table.
The whole text of the quote was entered, along with the date it was made on or referred to , and, most important, the source identification number that links the quote to the relevant source in the source table. This is called a relational database because the different tables connect on specific columns. Click here for a tutorial. When Branch finished his research, he had over 18, quotes and hundreds of sources. When it came time to write, he sorted his quote table by date.
This allowed him to move chronologically through Dr. During important periods, Branch sometimes found that he had dozens of insider quotes for each day! The key here is that the writing process had been simplified. It was just Branch and his database. As he moved through the important periods of Dr. This is how you win a Pulitzer Prize. Imagine, then, what this technique would do for an undergraduate research paper or your senior honors thesis. Throughout, I will use the case study of an Art History research paper I wrote last spring to illustrate the process.
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A paper research database is an advanced tactic. You are better off with the standard advice from the Straight-A method. If, on the other hand, the assignment is a major research paper, then this technique becomes relevant.
New & Trial Databases
You can identify these papers because, typically, they are assigned in upper level courses, they are the only paper you have to write in the class, and they are worth a significant portion of your grade. This technique is also well-suited for senior honors theses. In general, if you expect to work more than two weeks, and read more than sources, consider this approach. But they do have Excel. The first step is to create a table for the sources you consult. Create a new workbook for the project. On the first worksheet label the following columns:.
Taylor Branch had one giant table for all of his quotes. This is fine. I found it more useful, however, to have one worksheet in Excel for each major type of information I needed to look up during my research.
For example, in my paper on the Eames, I had a worksheet for quotes about a particular installation piece I was focusing on. I had another worksheet for quotes on chronology of the Eames involvement with the film world which was relevant to the paper. The screen shot included in this section shows the headers used in one of the quote worksheets from my Eames paper.
The research process begins with the construction of a source queue. This is a list of sources you need to review for your paper.
At first, this list will be small. Maybe a few obvious books and articles that popped up from a simple search. The screen shot to the right shows the population of one of my quote worksheets during my research process. At first, this process can be frustrating. Your source queue will grow faster than you can process its elements.
This is time consuming!
Using Databases and Finding References
So start early. This work is best accomplished in little hour chunks spread over multiple weeks. The big advantage this tool gives you is a comprehensive understanding of all the relevant issues. This confidence allows you to write strong, declarative sentences. It removes that sense of straining to connect paragraphs and eat up space that plagues undergrad papers and disappoints professors. And it allows you to make well-reasoned, original arguments. This is how real non-fictions writers work.
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If you follow their lead, you can produce writing that will blow away your professors. For research papers that matter, give this advanced tactic some serious consideration. Then I can sort them by keywords while writing the paper.
A good clarification. This approach is really for undergraduate level liberal arts papers. Science papers change things.
9.3 Basic Guidelines for Research in Academic Databases
Zotero appears to provide all this functionality in a tool that can capture as you work. It is an evolving tool, however, so my goal is to help it further evolve into something that essentially does all this online and without my having to retype quite so much information.
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Also, I tend to defer toward simple solutions with known technologies i. Otherwise, I spend too much time installing and learning software. All that being said, the more I hear about Zotero, the more my ears perk up. Zotero representative, contact me. An interview about your product might make a nice addition to Study Hacks…. Cal — thank for this great article. You create separate quote worksheets for each theme or section of the paper. Or did you create them after compiling lots of quotes and then parcel them out to separate sheets? Great question. The last time I used a quote database, I started with a single worksheet corresponding to the first direction I knew I would follow with my research.
As I did this initial research, and populated this worksheet, I began to come across quotes that needed a different theme — so I would create new themes on the fly. Another thing I did, relatively early in the process, was to get 2 -3 real general sources on the artists I was studying and read through them quickly. As I went along, it gave me good ideas of themes to look into, and, therefore, what worksheets to create. I like your idea about adding a theme column, and then just having one giant sheet that you sort. Hi, Great post. I was wondering if you could explain how it is that the source id number is related to the source in an Excel workbook such as this.
Is there some relation or link that will bring me there? I like the idea of a separate source page. There may be a way to do that. But I just flip.