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University of Minnesota

Kathryn A. Martin Library

WRIT 3160: Advanced Writing: Social Sciences Research Guide

Spring 2022

Find Background Information

Begin with a basic idea of your topic then look for information to help you narrow down the topic, focus on specific concepts, and generate keywords for your searches. In this part of the process you're browsing and doing a little reading to get familiar with the topic and generate ideas.

You can start with a basic source like Wikipedia to get definitions and background info. Popular sources such as newspapers or magazines provide general information on current issues. Books are also helpful for background reading, even scanning the table of contents can help you learn about your topic. 

Once you have some background information you can begin searching for scholarly articles to add depth to your description and analysis of your topic.

One Perfect Source?

It's easy to believe that your searching will turn up articles that directly address your topic in detail. But acutally you'll need to look at many articles and piece together information from each one. Gather more than you'll need. Review the articles, then choose the ones that help you understand, describe, and dig into your topic.

Plan Your Search

Identify Potential Sources
  • Newspapers - current events, issues, and trends; local information; interviews

  • Books - thorough discussion and in-depth treatment of a topic

  • Articles - original research; scholarly analysis of a single question; narrower treatment of a topic

  • Government Information - statistics; technical reports; legislative and judicial actions; publications from federal, state, and local agencies

  • Popular sources: newspapers, magazines, non-profit organizations, websites, blogs - current trends; popular perceptions of a topic; marginalized voices; advocacy

  • Videos: documentaries and fictional films - interviews; visual representations; on scene reporting; storytelling

Begin Your Search

Choose a search portal that contains your potential sources.

  • Articles & Books  - a broad selection of scholarly articles & books, videos, newspapers, some government documents

  • Databases - general databases: board selection of articles, some may include popular sources, news or short videos ; subject databases: focused selection of scholarly articles

  • Government Information - use an existing guide or website that directs you to government sources, or search the web for specific agencies

  • Google Scholar - comprehensive index of scholarly sources

  • Google - popular sources

What is a Peer Reviewed Journal?

  • Your instructors may frequently require you to find peer-reviewed articles for your assignments. These can also be called academic journal articles or scholarly articles. 
  • Academic journals are how experts communicate with each other about what’s going on in their field.
  • Authors of articles are experts in the field who want to share their research findings with other experts. 
  • Before publication, the author’s peers review the article and evaluate it to decide if it should be published, revised, or rejected. While this process is designed to ensure that published articles meet high standards for quality, originality, and legitimacy, it still important to evaluate academic articles critically.