Need help researching in the Social Sciences?
Ask the Social Sciences Teaching and Research Team-- SSTART!
Choosing a topic
The first thing you will need to do, of course, is come up with a research topic. You may already have a very specific topic in mind, or you may have a general idea of what interests you. In either case, it can be enough to begin your research. Very often you will find that your research will mold your topic and you may end up writing about something you had never even considered in the beginning!
If you’re having trouble coming up with a topic, think about what has interested you most in your class so far. What would you like to know more about? Maybe you have a few ideas and can’t narrow it down. That’s ok. You’ll be guided by your research: while you scan, browse, and read, you'll gain a better sense of the important issues surrounding your topic-- and you'll watch your research question come into focus.
Often, the best way to start searching is to use keywords, those words that describe the topic in your mind. You can start off in the main library search box, or Discovery Tool, with a Google-like search of words that seem to fit. It’s usually best to start off with a general search – don’t use too many words that will limit your options. You can narrow down your focus as you go along.
Beginning your search
Where to start? If you don't know much about your research topic, do a bit of background reading. A quick Google search may land you on Wikipedia, one of the places you might go to get a sense of the important ideas, people, organizations, places or events surrounding your topic. You might also consider Credo Reference, a collection of online reference sources, as well as subject-specific encyclopedias that can be found in the search box on the library's home page. Take note of the concepts and keywords you discover as you do your background reading, as they give focus to your research question. Consider keeping research notes or a journal; even a simple list of keywords and helpful resources will offer a springboard for your ideas and save you time.
Using the Library Search Box
Books (in paper and electronic format) and articles are core resources in Social Sciences research. You'll find access to these as well as CDs and DVDs, primary source archival material, subscription information to journals, and access to much of our online journal content. Using the discovery tool to do in-depth and extensive research in our periodical literature is not recommended; for more efficient searching, consider choosing specific databases that index information on your topic.
For more information about using the search box, including tips on how to narrow your search results and find specific kinds of sources, please see Using the Catalog in this LibGuide.
Throw out a wide net and read, read, read. Consider the number and kinds of sources you'll need. Which citation style should you use? What time period should it cover? Is currency important? What do you need to be aware of related to scholarly versus popular materials?
Where should I look?
How do I know I am done?
One key factor in knowing you are done is that you keep running into the same articles and materials. With no new information being uncovered you can assume you've exhausted your current search and should modify search terms, or perhaps you have reached a point of exhaustion with the available research.
How do I organize my literature review?
We have hundreds of databases containing journal literature, newspaper articles, images, and much more. How do you know which databases to search?
On the main library page, under Get Help, you’ll see a pop-up list called Find an Online Subject Guide. There’s a guide for every subject area. And because the social sciences are by nature interdisciplinary, if you're researching water resources in Africa, consider databases that cover this complex topic-- perhaps resources in Economics, Political Science, Anthropology, and Sociology, but also Environmental Sciences.
Each guide will list the most useful databases for that particular subject area and you will also find a link to your Subject Librarian, whom you can contact for research help, whether it’s a simple question or an in-depth research consultation. Subject librarians love working with students, so don't be afraid to contact them.
Some social science research guides include: