Gathering Information

Just Add Research!

Research will provide you with the details, opinions, and facts you need to develop your thesis. The best place to conduct your research is the AST Library, where sources are plentiful and help is always available at the Information Desk.

Big, Helpful Hint.

Talk to the Library staff. That's why they are there! Even experienced library users can benefit from discussing their term paper with the librarians at the Circulation or Reference Desks. They have helped thousands of students like you, and can provide very useful information and advice. They may have already helped others in your class and can save you valuable time. The Library staff know a wide range of resources and strategies, and can sometimes spot problems with your topic even before you are aware of them.

Don't be shy, just ask! That's why they're there!

Finding Books.

Use the Novanet catalogue to find books on your subject. Refer to your list of terms and ideas; choose keywords and subject headings to type into the Novanet catalogue. For the books that look interesting, write down the title, call number, and library (is the book at AST?).

Example:
Core, Deborah. The Seminary Student Writes. Ref BR 117 C67 2000 AST

Sometimes books on the same topic will have the same call number. If you notice this trend when browsing through Novanet, go to the bookshelves and browse the books with the same call number relating to your topic. Look at bibliographies at the back of useful books for more sources of information.

Finding Journal Articles.

Refer to the library's computer databases or periodical indexes to find journal articles on your subject. Some computer indexes give citations only, some include abstracts, and some provide the full-text of the articles.

Periodical articles are particularly useful if you want the most current information available. Some indexes also include references to chapters in books and to book reviews.

To search indexes, begin by using the same keywords and subject headings that you used in Novanet. Be flexible! Try several different words or phrases.

Write down the complete reference for a journal article: author, title, journal name, volume and issue number, date, page numbers. For your own information, it is useful to write down the titles of the indexes you searched.

To help keep your searches organized, get a copy of the AST Research template at the front desk, and make copies for all of your projects. This will help keep your research and your thinking clear.

Other Resources.

Remember that library staff can help you locate other types of information: government documents, corporate reports, and statistics. Just ask!

Using the Internet.

The Internet, especially the World Wide Web, is rapidly growing in both size and value to student research. Searching the Internet can be a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack. It's a good idea to get some advice from library staff about effective Internet search strategies.

Many reliable organizations (governments, corporations, special interest groups, etc.) provide information via the Web. You can also use it to search the catalogues of other libraries, to identify books that can then be borrowed for you by interlibrary loan. 

However, before you incorporate Internet information into a paper, check with your professor. Internet sources should be judged by the same criteria as print sources. What are the authors' qualifications? Have the authors supported their arguments with accurate facts? Have they cited their sources? Is their research up-to-date? Do they explore all sides of an issue, or do they exhibit a biased viewpoint?

Be careful! A lot of what you may find on the Internet may be erroneous or incomplete. Anyone can publish anything they like on the Net: opinions, facts, or outright lies.

Ask at the Information Desk for assistance searching the Internet and for advice on verifying the credibility of a webpage.

Evaluate and Organize.

Organize and clearly document the information you find, or you will waste valuable time. Be sure to record all bibliographical information at the beginning of your notes: author, title, place, publisher, and date.

Keeping a folder in Refworks, our Bibliographic Citation software is one of the best ways to do this. Come see the library staff or visit the library homepage for more information.

When you take notes, ensure that the bibliographic details are visible and that you record page numbers with each note. Put quotation marks around exact quotes from the book.

Careful note-taking will save you a great deal of time when you write your paper and when you add the footnotes and bibliography. Ambiguous notes will require more digging to verify your information, which may not be easy to find the second time.

What to Include in Your Notes.

The purpose of a scholarly paper is to investigate a subject, to form opinions about it, and then to organize these opinions into a logical form, backing them up with details and documentation. In gathering notes and quotes, you should be looking for:

  • Ideas that outline each side of an issue, argument or topic.
  • Details that prove that the ideas are more than just an opinion or speculation.
  • Quotations that illuminate the subject.

In your own words, paraphrase or summarize the information you have read. Remember that ideas from other sources, as well as direct quotes, need to be footnoted.

Use some sort of system to record your own impressions and thoughts about what you are reading. These ideas will form an important part of your paper. Try using brackets around your own thoughts; or different colour ink or highlighting; or different spacing; or use a separate page or note card for your own ideas, related to the information you are reading.

Organize Your Notes.

Now that you have done your research and formed your ideas, you can outline your paper, based on the notes you have taken.

Re-read your notes and group together similar ideas. This will show relationships in subtopics, a logical progression for your arguments, and any gaps that need to be filled. Organize the large and obvious ideas as your main sections, and then decide how these sections can be subdivided.

Next: The Writing Process >>