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:
- An outline/mind map to guide your research
- 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, questions, and lists of things you need to find or do
- Keeping track of these in one place ensures that they won't get lost or forgotten!
- TIP: Don't erase anything, just cross it out; you may need to revisit an idea
- A running references list/bibliography of your sources
Get some background info
Narrow your topic
Clarifying your research questions and 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.
- Create a five-minute outline: Set a timer for five minutes, and don't stop writing until your time is up. Write about what you already know about your topic, what you'd like to know, and what questions you have. After five minutes, organize those notes into an outline or mind map. Update and add to your outline/mind map as you learn more about your topic!
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.