Researcher pro tip: Keep a research notebook!
Keeping a research notebook is an excellent way to save yourself time! This can be as simple as a blank sheet of paper or Google doc. Keeping track of what you searched for, where you searched, and what you found can save you time since you won't accidentally end up re-doing any searching that you've already completed. This is also a great strategy in the event that you'll need to write about your research process - by keeping a step-by-step log, you'll have all of that info at your fingertips!
Some things to keep track of in your research notebook include:
- Your keywords (also keep track of new keywords you'd like to search for in the future!)
- The places you searched, like databases, website URLs, etc.
- The results of your search: Book titles, journal article titles, etc. and what you found in them
- Ideas for your paper - keeping track of these in one place ensures that they won't get lost or forgotten!
Narrowing your topic
Narrowing your topic is one of the toughest thing about beginning a new research project. Some of the questions that might help you to narrow your topic include:
- Who is your reader and what would they be interested in learning?
- How big or small is the scope of your project? How much time do you have to finish it?
- When thinking about your broad topic, what main ideas or terms would you use to describe it to someone who doesn't know anything about your topic?
- Ask yourself who, what, where, when, how, and why, and aim to answer these questions using single keywords or short phrases!
- Who: Antonio Salieri
- What: Opera arias
- Where: Vienna
- When: Mid-eighteenth century
- How: Form, structure
- Why: Comparison to other composers
- Once you have a list of keywords, combine them to create a narrowed topic
- Example: I'd like to research the form and structure of Antonio Salieri's mid-eighteenth century Viennese opera arias and see how they compare to the form and structure of opera arias by other composers of that time and place.
Starting your search for sources, part 1: Creating a list of search terms/keywords
Once you’ve chosen a topic for your research, the next thing you’ll need to get started is a few keywords to help you search for background information and to help with finding relevant sources. Try to describe the topic you'd like to explore in 1-2 sentences - what keywords come to mind?
Aim for making a list of about 6-8 keywords associated with your topic. These can include key composers, performers, genres, names of instruments, or any other words that you think of. These keywords will give you something to start searching for in the resources we discussed in class.
And don’t be afraid to revise your list of keywords as you go along! The more you learn about your topic, the more refined your keywords will become – which will help you to find additional useful sources as you continue to search.