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Contemporary Issues in the Study of Religion: Subject Guide: Research Tips

Online Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

The following online encyclopedias and dictionaries are available to you from both on- and off-campus. For off-campus access, use your University logon and password (the same logon/password you use to log onto the campus computer lab computers).

Getting Started With Your Research

  1. Begin early. Give yourself plenty of time.
  2. Understand the project that has been assigned to you. Ask your professor if you need clarification.
  3. Understand the types of information sources that are appropriate to the assignment and to your professor's expectations (e.g., magazines vs. peer-reviewed journals, the Internet vs. Scholarly Research Databases).
  4. Use Library resources, not Google and not Wikipedia.
  5. Be strategic. Gather background information. Decide the paper’s focus. List the questions that need to be answered for a successful argument. Identify sources to answer each question. Conduct additional research based on those questions.
  6. Use a variety of sources. Using multiple sources demonstrates that you have a firm understanding of the subject matter.
  7. Select sources that lend credibility to your ideas. The quality of information sources vary. Citing sources that are authoritative will strengthen your position.

Developing a Search Strategy

Searching for information for research papers need not be difficult. If you design and follow a plan in your search for information, you will be able to find what you need with greater efficiency.

The following search strategy is intended as a general guide. You can vary it depending on your specific needs, but consider all of these basic steps.

Select a topic that interests you:
Start by choosing a topic that interests you and that you can cover in the time and space required for your project.  Talk to your professor if you need help developing your topic or if you don't understand your assignment.

Formulate a thesis statement:
A thesis statement is a sentence that explicitly identifies the purpose of the paper or previews its main ideas. If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your paper. 

Read background information:
Take a few minutes to read about your topic in a specialized encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook. These sources will provide you with background information, as well as lists of other sources to get you started on your research. Search for these sources in the Library Catalog and Article Databases.

Make a list of words that describe your topic:
Think about your BROAD and NARROW topics and compile a list of words and synonyms or alternate words that describe them. Use these words when searching for books and articles in the Library Catalog and Article Databases

Focus on scholarly sources (books and articles):
Use primarily scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Such sources are typically not freely available on the Web and cannot be found by searching Internet search engines like Google or Yahoo.

Keep a log of your search process:
Keep track of what sources and search terms "work" and which ones do not.

Cite as you go:
Even if you're not sure whether you will use a source, it's much easier to note the citation information up front than to decide you need it later! Consider using citation software, such as EndNote or Zotero to keep track of the citations in your paper.

Database Search Tips

1. For off-campus access, enter your Campus ID and Password at the prompt.

2. Use the Advanced Search option within the database you are using to achieve the best results.

3. Keep your search terms brief and concise.

4. Check your spelling. Library databases do not correct spelling errors.

5. If your first set of search terms doesn't retrieve any results, try using synonyms that describe your topic.

6. You can search for different forms of a word (different word endings of the same word), by typing the first few letters followed by an asterisk. Example:

  • myst* will search for mystic, mystics, mystical, mysticism, mystagogy, etc.

7. Use double quotation marks around two or more words to search as a phrase. Example:

  • “divine law" 

8. Use the connecting words AND, OR, and NOT to narrow or broaden your search. Examples:

  • faith AND belief - to search for articles that include both terms
  • faith OR belief - to search for articles that contain either term
  • faith NOT belief - to search for articles that contain information about coherence but not correspondence

9. You can create more complex searches by using the words AND, OR, NOT, in combination with parentheses. Example:

  • Chrisianity AND (faith OR belief)

10. If don’t see a full-text link (HTML full text or PDF), try clicking on the  button to determine whether the article you need is available full-text in another database.  If it is, the Find-It service will direct you to the article. 

Ask a librarian for help if you can't find what you need!