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The Elements of Library Research: What Every Student Needs to Know

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Overview

"This short, practical book provides a foundation for success in any research assignment, from a freshman paper to a senior thesis. Drawing on decades of experience with undergraduates, reference librarian Mary George arms you with the concepts, strategies, tools, and tactics you need to approach academic projects with confidence." Complete with checklists and timelines, plus a glossary of key terms, ranging from Boolean search to peer review, this book is an essential introduction to college-level research.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

George (reference, Princeton Univ. Lib.) has created a research guide for undergraduates. While the focus is on library research, George also briefly covers other methods of research students will encounter in college, such as experimental, field, and observational. The author makes excellent use of checklists and charts, along with 15 "Mary's Maxims" (e.g., "Don't Settle for What's Handy") to highlight the steps students should take in the research process, as well as explaining important key research terms and how to evaluate sources. The book includes four appendixes, two of which, "Research Timelines" and "Questions To Ask Your Instructor," would be extremely useful for students who are feeling overwhelmed by the research process. While aimed toward students, especially those inexperienced in the research process, the book would also be helpful for any librarians teaching introduction to research courses at their institutions. Recommended for high school and college libraries.
—Julie Elliott

Choice - C.D. Vidas
Diving into research can be a daunting task, whether the quest for information is conducted by a first-year undergraduate or an experienced graduate student. Realizing that professors may assume a higher level of research proficiency in their students than exists in reality, George offers a fresh, comprehensive, enjoyable discussion for readers of all levels and abilities. . . . Engaging in successful research may be difficult for a novice, but readers of this work will possess a new confidence as they work through their undergraduate or graduate coursework.
Journal of Academic Librarianship - Margie Ruppel
Mary W. George has succeeded at describing the elements of library research in this monograph. She avoids overwhelming the reader with a list of specific titles to consult in each area of research, and instead encourages beginning researchers to dive into the process, take good notes, and produce a well-researched project. Overall, this book is a well-written and well-organized guide for how to turn curiosity into research and learning.
American Reference Books Annual - Joseph P. Hester
Written with the student in mind, this volume covers the basic steps involved in library research and will prove to be an excellent resource for both teacher and student. The teacher, whose responsibility it is to provide consistent direction and research evaluation will particularly find this volume a useful tool. The introduction is clearly written and in an instructional style beneficial to both teacher and student. . . . Coupled with a glossary of library research terms, a selected bibliography, and a useful index, this volume will prove a valuable tool for educators for many years.
From the Publisher
"George (reference, Princeton Univ. Lib.) has created a research guide for undergraduates. While the focus is on library research, George also briefly covers other methods of research students will encounter in college, such as experimental, field, and observational. The author makes excellent use of checklists and charts, along with 15 'Mary's Maxims' (e.g., 'Don't Settle for What's Handy') to highlight the steps students should take in the research process, as well as explaining important key research terms and how to evaluate sources. The book includes four appendixes, two of which, 'Research Timelines' and 'Questions To Ask Your Instructor,' would be extremely useful for students who are feeling overwhelmed by the research process. While aimed toward students, especially those inexperienced in the research process, the book would also be helpful for any librarians teaching introduction to research courses at their institutions. Recommended for high school and college libraries."—Julie Elliott, Library Journal

"Diving into research can be a daunting task, whether the quest for information is conducted by a first-year undergraduate or an experienced graduate student. Realizing that professors may assume a higher level of research proficiency in their students than exists in reality, George offers a fresh, comprehensive, enjoyable discussion for readers of all levels and abilities. . . . Engaging in successful research may be difficult for a novice, but readers of this work will possess a new confidence as they work through their undergraduate or graduate coursework."—C.D. Vidas, Choice

"Mary W. George has succeeded at describing the elements of library research in this monograph. She avoids overwhelming the reader with a list of specific titles to consult in each area of research, and instead encourages beginning researchers to dive into the process, take good notes, and produce a well-researched project. Overall, this book is a well-written and well-organized guide for how to turn curiosity into research and learning."—Margie Ruppel, Journal of Academic Librarianship

"Written with the student in mind, this volume covers the basic steps involved in library research and will prove to be an excellent resource for both teacher and student. The teacher, whose responsibility it is to provide consistent direction and research evaluation will particularly find this volume a useful tool. The introduction is clearly written and in an instructional style beneficial to both teacher and student. . . . Coupled with a glossary of library research terms, a selected bibliography, and a useful index, this volume will prove a valuable tool for educators for many years."—Joseph P. Hester, American Reference Books Annual

Choice
Diving into research can be a daunting task, whether the quest for information is conducted by a first-year undergraduate or an experienced graduate student. Realizing that professors may assume a higher level of research proficiency in their students than exists in reality, George offers a fresh, comprehensive, enjoyable discussion for readers of all levels and abilities. . . . Engaging in successful research may be difficult for a novice, but readers of this work will possess a new confidence as they work through their undergraduate or graduate coursework.
— C.D. Vidas
Journal of Academic Librarianship
Mary W. George has succeeded at describing the elements of library research in this monograph. She avoids overwhelming the reader with a list of specific titles to consult in each area of research, and instead encourages beginning researchers to dive into the process, take good notes, and produce a well-researched project. Overall, this book is a well-written and well-organized guide for how to turn curiosity into research and learning.
— Margie Ruppel
American Reference Books Annual
Written with the student in mind, this volume covers the basic steps involved in library research and will prove to be an excellent resource for both teacher and student. The teacher, whose responsibility it is to provide consistent direction and research evaluation will particularly find this volume a useful tool. The introduction is clearly written and in an instructional style beneficial to both teacher and student. . . . Coupled with a glossary of library research terms, a selected bibliography, and a useful index, this volume will prove a valuable tool for educators for many years.
— Joseph P. Hester
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691131504
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/25/2008
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary W. George is acting head of reference and senior reference librarian at Princeton University Library. She is the coauthor of "Learning the Library: Concepts and Methods for Effective Bibliographic Instruction".

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Read an Excerpt

The Elements of Library Research What Every Student Needs to Know
By Mary W. George Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13857-2


Chapter One Introduction to Research as Inquiry

Let me explain what this little book is and why I am writing it. It is not a guide to whipping up successful research papers from dribs and drabs of information. Nor is it a set of commandments or a list of random reference works. It is about the interplay of ideas (yours) with sources (from outside yourself) and about the nature and discovery of those sources. I want to persuade you, as a serious but uncertain student, that library research is not a mystery or a lucky dodge, but an investigation you control from start to finish, even though you cannot usually tell what sources you will discover. Like its twin, scientific experiment, library research is a form of structured inquiry with specific tools, rules, and techniques. Also like its twin, it is unpredictable, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding as you examine your findings, then add your own insights to make a compelling case. As a bonus, when you share your work-whether through writing, speaking, or technology-addressing one person or a wide audience, you create a new source, extending the cycle. There is no more fulfilling intellectual experience.

What do I mean by student and library in the previous paragraph? I want to reach anyone who feels anxious-or downrightscared-when facing a task that involves seeking and weighing information. You may be starting your first research paper, your nth term project, even your doctoral dissertation: if you worry that you are not going to find enough of the "right stuff," then the ideas and suggestions in this book will put you at ease and back in charge. Each time you work through the library research process, regardless of how different your aim or subject is from your previous efforts, you will become more fluent. Soon you will see how to modify the method and what alternatives exist if you are missing a key fact or suspect that a source cannot be trusted. As with any other complex activity, repetition with variations will lead first to mastery, then to creativity.

Novices often think that unless they have a gigantic university library at their disposal, they will fail to find all the sources they need. Not so. A bigger collection is not necessarily a better one for a specific research project. Not only are tens of millions of reputable sources of all sorts now in digital form as licensed databases or free on the Web, but libraries can often obtain material from elsewhere within a few days. Unless and until you come up short in the nearby collections available to you-typically your school's own library and your local public library-I urge you not to worry. But if you do conclude that you need more sources, speak with both your instructor (assuming you are doing a course-related research project) and a reference librarian about what you can do.

Likewise, do not assume dire consequences if your library does not have all the reference works and databases I mention. I name these titles simply as examples, not as necessary resources for everyone. Once you understand what each type of tool does, you can figure out-on your own or by asking- what your library has to offer for the job.

Moving from the Known to the New

When you are familiar with an activity because you have done it flawlessly in the past, then you do not give it much time or thought or emotion. Why would you, unless the outcome is especially significant, such as earning a high grade on a math exam tomorrow so that you can take calculus next term?

But if an activity is new to you-if it is familiar but a lot more complex than anything you have done in the past, if factors such as the setting or criteria for success are strange-then you will inevitably be unsure, anxious, and probably tempted to avoid the experience. Think about the first time you needed to figure out a big city's public transportation system on your own, so that you could travel from point A to point B within an hour. It was stressful-right?-even if all the maps and signs were in English. Now imagine the first time you got behind the wheel of a car, presumably after learning dozens of rules and cautions in a driver's education class. My guess is that although you felt somewhat uncertain about what to do and the order to do it in, you were so eager to get your permit that you remember the event as a stimulating rather than a harrowing experience.

These scenarios illustrate the range of research projects you will encounter in college and beyond, some completely foreign to you and others for which you have some background or experience. The trait they share is the hunt for "what's out there," a favorite phrase of teachers everywhere.

In the following sections I cover the purposes of research in general, the varieties of research, and the ways researchers communicate their findings. I start this way because I want to convince you that the library research process is part of a larger universe of inquiry. If you can identify the facets of any research study you encounter, and figure out how someone designed it (or could have designed it better), then you will be much readier for college-level research than most students, whether in a library or a laboratory. As you read the next few pages, keep in mind that your professors live and breathe these issues as they go about the business of creating new knowledge in their fields.

Reasons for Research

Before we examine the varieties and characteristics of research, we should consider why anyone does formal research in the first place. Here is a list of research goals I encounter frequently on a university campus, but they occur in other settings as well, such as in business, government, and professional organizations. Research serves to

1. Reveal the cause or causes of a phenomenon 2. Resolve an anomaly (something that doesn't make sense)

3. Test a hypothesis or develop a theory

4. Verify or replicate someone else's findings

5. Determine what a new instrument or technique can do

6. Adapt methods or results from one field to another

7. Observe or record an event as it occurs

8. Reproduce conditions from the past in the present

9. Understand human motivations for actions

10. Isolate factors and their interrelationships in a complex system

11. Predict or influence individual or group behavior

12. Improve the quality of life across cultures and populations

13. Analyze the components of a creative work

No doubt you can supply examples of each of these research incentives from your own reading and experience. I suggest you keep track of additional ones you come across from now on. My point is that although a researcher's intent helps determine the specific methods he or she will use, all researchers share a deep, universal aim: to discover the truth about something that intrigues them.

Varieties of Research

Most people think about research in large categories labeled with the field of the researcher or the course that requires a research project. For instance, you might refer to historical research, scientific research, textual research, or sociological research. These phrases suffice for general communication about what is meant, and they are the ones you see and hear in the media. They are not, however, precise as to the way someone tackles a research problem. The following chart lists some, but by no means all, of the common approaches to investigation used in research projects (also frequently called research studies), with brief descriptions. I don't dwell on any of them except the first-which is, after all, what this book is about. I simply want to lay out the cards so you will see how diverse the deck of inquiry is. The forms of research toward the top of the chart are the ones you are most likely to encounter during your first two years of college.

These methods overlap in real life-in fact, it's unusual for a given project not to involve more than one of them. Furthermore, the qualitative, quantitative, and empirical approaches are umbrella terms that can be applied to other methods as well. For now, just be alert to this variety.

Research Method Characteristics and Examples

Library Involves identifying and locating sources that provide factual information or personal/ expert opinion on a research question; necessary component of every other research method at some point

Experimental Takes place in a dedicated environment, typically a laboratory, and involves specific equipment and procedural steps; molecular biological research to decode a species' genome is an example

Explicatory Entails a careful, close, and focused examination of a single major text, or of evidence surrounding a single complex event, in an attempt to understand one or more aspects of it-for instance, why a poem is pleasing, or the probable causes of an event

Field Occurs wherever the phenomenon under study exists, meaning the researcher goes to that location; archaeological excavation is one type

Observational Takes place either in a laboratory or in the field, but entails capturing an exact record of some behavior (of either animate or inanimate objects); child psychologists who watch infants interact do this sort of research. Note that researchers may be observers or participants in the phenomenon they are studying, as when an anthropologist lives in a remote village to record the language used by people during religious ceremonies

Interview Includes any sort of conversation that addresses a specific experience or issue about which the interviewee is knowledgeable, involves questions prepared in advance, and is recorded in its entirety; oral history, for instance

Survey Poses a series of questions to a group of people (usually a sample) with specific responses for individuals to choose from; usually captures demographic and socioeconomic information as well, to correlate with the responses; written questionnaires and telephone opinion polls are examples

Longitudinal Follows a phenomenon over time; often used in educational or medical studies where the individuals in a group are periodically reexamined at specific intervals over many years

Archival Involves the researcher in a close study of original documents-typically collected and retained by governments, organizations, or families-that exist in a unique location; genealogical research is a case in point

Qualitative Designates any research whose results are captured in words, images, or nonnumeric symbols; for instance, research on dreams

Quantitative Describes any approach where the phenomenon under study is captured via measurement and expressed in numbers that can be analyzed; opposite of qualitative research; econometric research on the international oil trade is an example

Empirical Refers to studies using experiment or observation to test the validity of a phenomenon; less rigorously, refers to knowledge derived from experience, as when people assert that, based on empirical evidence, the sun will rise tomorrow morning

Theoretical Entails speculation on the part of the researcher, and is usually based on the findings of other kinds of studies, in an attempt to account for or predict the behavior of a phenomenon; Einstein's work is a case in point

How Researchers Share Their Findings

You can think of these and other research methods as the engine of the new-knowledge-creation process, the necessary transformative stage between the researcher's curiosity and conclusions. Before you can appreciate those conclusions or take part in the process itself, you should be aware of the various ways researchers convey their results and interpretations to other experts and to the general public.

Here is yet another list, this time of how and where researchers most commonly communicate. Since most of these channels are familiar or self-explanatory, I keep my elaboration to a minimum. The product of research can be

1. A report in the form of a peer-reviewed article in a scholarly journal

2. An announcement in the form of a press release, interview, or story written by a journalist for a news publication or popular periodical

3. A book (also called a monograph when it is devoted to a single, complex topic)

4. A chapter in a collection of essays addressing the same or related themes

5. A presentation at a conference, sometimes later published in a proceedings volume or as a journal article

6. A master's thesis or doctoral dissertation, which may later be revised and issued as a book

8. A memoir or autobiography, typically by a senior scholar reflecting on his or her research career and appearing in journal article, chapter, or book format

9. A comment on another researcher's work, such as a letter to the editor or a book review, published in a newspaper or periodical Nonprint media such as e-mail, listserv postings, blogs, personal Web pages, filmed documentaries, or broadcast interviews on radio or television

10. An overview or synthesis in an encyclopedia article or college textbook

11. Classroom teaching, conversations with colleagues, and student advising, types of communication that are seldom published but may well be captured and preserved as lecture notes, in footnotes, or in the acknowledgments of books or journal articles

In the course of your college education, you will read about each of these forms of communication. You will likely observe your professors engage in or allude to them as well.

Peer Review

This is an essential activity in the world of learning. In its more general sense, peer review means that specialists on a topic have a duty to evaluate the work of others in the same area of expertise-just as those with experience in the professions serve as gatekeepers for their field. In its narrower sense, a peer-reviewed article is one that scholars in a discipline have judged to be worthwhile before it is published in a journal, thus assuring that poor research and weak arguments never see the light of day.

Literature Review A standard outcome of research is a literature review (also called a research review or a review of the literature). This is a paragraph, section, or entire chapter-depending on the nature and length of the publication-in which the author identifies and comments on previous attempts to answer the same, or related, research questions. Although you may never be asked to include a formal research review in anything you write in college, you will most definitely be expected to do research reviews for various projects, mainly to back up your own ideas and arguments, but also to prove to your teachers that you can identify and evaluate relevant sources.

Don't be misled by the phrases literature review or review of the literature. They refer to a summary of related research in any field. The terms are not limited to the novels, poems, or plays you read in an English course. So you may well come across a literature review on AIDS-related infant mortality in a journal article by medical researchers describing their study of the disease in newborns.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Elements of Library Research by Mary W. George
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

1 Introduction to Research as Inquiry 1

2 From Research Assignment to Research Plan 14

3 Strategy and Tools for Discovery 64

4 The Fine Art of Finding Sources 90

5 Insight, Evaluation, Argument, and Beyond 126

Appendix A Good Habits, Helpful Hints, and Wrong Assumptions 145

Appendix B Mary's Maxims Compiled 147

Appendix C Research Timelines 149

Appendix D Questions to Ask Your Instructor 161

Appendix E Research Appointment Worksheet 163

Glossary of Library Research Terms 165

Selected Bibliography 191

Index 195

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