Before you can embark on any type of research endeavor you need to know where to turn for information. If you're just starting out, or have a lot of reservations about preparing for a project or paper, defining which sources are relevant and which ones are not should be one of your primary concerns.
What makes a source relevant?
Relevancy in source attainment can vary and will depend on the type of project you are working on. Though in general, a source is deemed relevant if it aides you in sufficiently accomplishing your goal and objective. When determining if a source is relevant you should consider the details and description of the assignment, any important questions you must answer, and the main objective or goal of the research you plan to conduct. Likewise, if you've already developed a thesis statement then your sources should be relevant to the points covered in the thesis.
People perform research for several reasons and therefore require sources that serve different functions. Before you determine if a source is helpful to you or not you need to ask yourself a few key questions. The first one being, what type of research are you conducting?
Determine your research type
Whether you're writing an essay for an English class, a scientific report for a psychology class, or evaluating a proposed theory in an engineering, you're conducting some type of research-light or in-depth. This research usually falls under one of three categories.
As the name suggest, exploratory research involves further exploring a problem or idea to better define the topic and create a feasible thesis or main argument. A problem cannot be examined properly unless it is fully defined. Therefore this type of research allows the student to gain a better understanding of what needs to be achieved based on secondary sources before any concrete or actual research takes place.
Generally if your research is more literature-based in which you do not conduct any 'first-hand' original research but rather explore theories and other developments which you then use to try and solve a problem, then most likely you are conducting a form of theoretical research. You may have also seen the term constructive research closely connected to this as well because it deals with research performed to solve a specific problem or crisis based on theories.
This can also be referred to as empirical research in which you are conducting original research using direct or indirect observations. Your study will be qualitative or quantitative and may involve samples, case studies, and live experiments. This is a very popular and common type of 'hands-on' research.
In a sense these three types can also be seen as the steps of the research process. The first one being, to explore and define the topic, the second, to research the theories on it, and the third, to conduct the experiment.
Identify the sources that will give you the answers you need
The purpose of narrowing down relevant sources is so that you can pinpoint just the right handful of materials to help you achieve your main objective. If you are conducting exploratory research you may want to start by using basic information sources to help gain more information on your topic.
Relevant sources for basic, introductory information
Simple internet searches (for general information)
Professors or experts in the field
*Of course your exploratory research is not limited to the things mentioned and sources may overlap with those needed for theoretical or empirical research as well.
Relevant sources for theories
Scholarly and peer reviewed journal articles
Textbooks and books specific to the topic being studied
Trade magazines or newsletters if your topic is connected to a particular profession
Relevant sources for original research (data collection)
Case studies/clinical trials
Extracting information from data information systems
Other relevant sources not mentioned that can be very useful in obtaining certain information
Government documents and statistics
Manuscripts and Artifacts
*Primary and secondary sources: When researching its important to know the difference between primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are generally considered original research or 'first-hand' accounts of an event (for example, diaries and letters). Secondary sources are objective reviews, discussions, examinations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources. They are usually books written on a topic, and journal and magazine articles or reviews etc.
Relevant vs. Useful
Additionally, in the research process you may notice that there are many books and articles available to you related to your topic. This may be even more so if you have a broad topic that has yet to be narrowed down. Does that mean that you should try and use all of the sources you find? No it doesn't.
Some material may fit the subject matter you are looking for but does not meet the specificities required for your main idea. Specificities can only be determined once you've identified what you want to achieve and the various points you'd like to cover in your paper. Once that is complete you can develop a research strategy to identify the scope of your research (such as the time period you'll be looking at) as well as particular keywords you can use in your search. *For example if your topic is 'eating habits of the urban poor', you may want to look up 'food and the poor' in a search database.
Even after you find relevant sources that meet the specificities of your paper or project you still may see them going unused in your writing. Thats okay. Sometimes we change our objectives or thesis slightly as we go along (and gain more knowledge on the topic) and realize that certain information is no longer a priority and not very useful for what you are trying to achieve.
Finding suitable resources is a major part of the research process. A skilled researcher can recognize useful sources early on and save his or herself a significant amount of time by not focusing energy on unrelated or useless information. But even the pros may find themselves gathering relevant resources that are ultimately unhelpful in the construction of a paper or project. Overall, proper preparation and a detailed research plan is the best means to preventing timely investments and unused resources.
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