Continuing in our series of Research Essentials, this blog post will focus on outlining how to find and use academic and non-academic sources for your research project. All new research should be framed within and supported by previous research conducted on that topic or in that area. Depending on the level of academic rigor needed for the research to be accepted, this can be a basic or very complex process. It is important to understand how proper resourcing can help strengthen the impact of your research.
Once you have decided on your research project by identifying a series of research questions and deciding on a research methodology, the next step in the research process is to decide on the central themes of your research. By identifying the key themes that your research addresses, you will be prepared to seek out useful resources which frame and support your research. For example, if you have decided to conduct research examining factors which contribute to low voter turnout of millennial Americans, your central themes would be defining the millennial generation, tracing political associations and opinions, and perspectives on voting and voter turnout. Following this example, your preliminary research would need to include exploring previous research into each of these themes.
Part of conducting any research project is being able to justify the need for that research within your given field. Through researching these key themes, you may find that not enough scholars have considered elements of your question, or perhaps they have not done so recently, or through using your particular methodology. Gathering this evidence, will help you place your research within the field, and also help you make the argument for its necessity.
Finding sufficient resources can be a challenging process. Within academia there are two main forms of sources – primary and secondary. Primary sources generally indicate that the sources have a high level of academic rigor and usually includes books and articles published by academic publishers and journals, as well as sources derived from archival research. Secondary sources can include more informal sources, such as newspaper articles, interviews, video clips, and other media. It is important to collect a wide range of sources from both forms in order to show not only your understanding of the subject, but the work you have undertaken to reach this understanding.
Many universities and journals make academic books and articles accessible to their students. Though more scholars are now advocating for the democratization of resources, accessing these sources can be difficult for those not associated with a university setting. Google Scholar has become a platform where academic sources can be found, but the limited access to high level resources should be a consideration when you are conducting your search. From more conventional resources at libraries and journals, to reports and research conducted by businesses and non-profits, it is necessary to be creative and inventive when finding support for your research.
Reading, analyzing, and understanding your primary and secondary sources will not only help you support and defend your research but will also help you to critique and question this previous research. Though this can be a painstaking process, it is essential to producing impactful and significant research. As with all business and education innovation, you must first know what came before in order to create something new.