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Engl 130: Research Hacks

Annotated Bibliography

Remember that an annotated bibliography organizes sources and evaluates how they contribute to your knowledge of the topic you are researching. 

Don't forget that a source that disagrees with your perspective can still be a valuable resource as you build a knowledge base for your research projects. Even for a relatively short annotated bibliography, including a variety of voices gives you broader content knowledge and may even direct you to more sources that better support your ideas.

Bonus: the library website can help you with citation! In addition to excellent research guides on citation managers and style guides, library databases can also export citations for sources you find. As a rule, you should always double check your citations for accuracy, but these tools can save a lot time and frustration as you begin learning about your topic.

Research Hacks: Searching to Learn

  • Look at title words and subject terms: authors choose titles carefully to convey information and grab interest.  Information professionals assign subject terms to convey what an article is primarily about.  Do the topic keywords you had in mind correctly match with what you see on the results screen?  If yes, great!  Skim the first couple pages of your results. If not, try a new search strategy to get more relevant results (and ask for help versus struggling on your own!)

  • Use varied search terms: Even if you strike gold with your first search, don't underestimate the value of using different or more specific search terms. Look for common terms and phrases that appear frequently in the sources that seem most relevant to your topic, and then use that vocabulary to make the search feature work more efficiently for you. Using this feedback loop will yield even better results. The broader your base of knowledge on a topic, the better prepared you'll be when you start using the information you've learned. While you do want to know when it's time to stop researching and begin writing, it can't hurt to have a little more information at your disposal!

  • Multiple keywords: In the same way pairing an author's name with a keyword yields more specific results, using multiple keywords can also narrow or broaden search results, depending on how they are used. Selecting the "OR" option will return all the results that match any of your keywords, while selecting "AND" will narrow results to only those sources that contain both keywords.

  • Skim first, read later: When beginning to find sources to learn about your topic, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration by skimming an article first. If an article has an abstract, start by reading that -- it typically contains an overview of the content and a preview of the main argument. Then, if it looks relevant, you can spend some time reading it fully once you've selected a few sources to provide context for the topic or issue you've chosen to address.

  • Ask questions: Even if your research is going well, be sure to ask a librarian or your instructor when any questions pop up. As experts in their fields, they will be able to quickly offer suggestions and solutions to most of the hurdles you may encounter. And ask your peers -- remember, they are researching too! Collaboration is a key component in learning, so don't hesitate to ask around if you encounter an obstacle during the research process.

Getting Started

Best Bets - Start Here
Other Article Databases and Ways to Find Them