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But most of the time, what you have is a genuinely fuzzy idea, and that's where keyword searches come in real handy.
Magazines like Time and Newsweek often have good focused articles, but they tend to be laden with unsupported opinions, and written to cause a sensation rather than to reveal the truth. For raw data and spirited opinion, government documents can't be beat.
Your tax dollars fund a mountain of research, good, bad, and indifferent, and the results of all of that research end up in the government documents department of the library.
Make sure you read the search screen for the online system you are using, because many online indexes and catalogs ask you to click on Keyword Search or something similar, before sending the surfer in search of the prize. Some Hot Tips To Enhance Your Quest For Fire: Try using a little logic - Boolean logic, that is. Most online indexes use some version of Boolean searching.
Speaking of which, don’t ignore the internet search engines like It lets me keyword search a huge list of sources (including lots of stuff that's not in the library), lets me scan titles of individual issues of journals, and even (for a fee) lets me order photocopies of articles online, or get their table of contents regularly delivered to my email box. Yet Another In a Continuing Series of Hot Library Tips. That means lopping off the last letter or so, and sticking on a "wild card" which says "this plus any variation of this", such as plural forms.
If you get zip, try thinking of alternate terms, synonyms, slang etc. Usually you get way too much, because in our haste to get everything online, we've indexed everything to death.
So a search on alligators turns up everything from wildlife to recipes.These would include (but need not be limited to) books, magazine articles, journal articles (really serious magazines), reference books, and the internet.Avoid using too many newspaper articles and magazines wherever you can.Kind of like a sixth sense, or a really obscure super power. Remember that most of the interface you deal with aren't really librarians, they're student workers, clerical staff, or whoever else could be dragooned into helping to fill the long hours on the firing line.In your first draft, say what you have to say, then punch it up or trim it down as need be. Outlining is a genuine pain, which I personally put in the same category as cleaning the litter box - a necessary evil. You should seek out and befriend a competent and helpful reference librarian early on, like Buffy found Giles.No more than one third of your sources should come from magazines or the internet, unless they refer to actual data.If your entire argument is built upon a stack of Newsweeks, it will tremble in the slightest breeze. Try to use several different types of sources in your research.It can take several weeks to get the material you need from another library.As the semester progresses, and more students and faculty gradually realize they also need this service, it quickly slows down under the load. By the time you finish your research and writing, you might well be genuinely sick to death of your topic (ask any graduate student who's just completed a dissertation! But if you're bored when you start, you've already defeated yourself, and turned a potentially interesting assignment into yet more drudgery. If cloning is too broad for a five page paper, what about cloning Elvis? Make sure that you find this topic genuinely interesting, or find some aspect of it that is especially cool. If your topic is way too broad, try homing in on some part of that topic, and exploring that area in more depth.