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1-Research Questions

Background Reading

A pair of binoculars

Get a good look at your topic through background reading.

It’s wise to do some more reading about that narrower topic once you have it. For one reason, you probably don’t know much about it yet. For another, such reading will help you learn the terms used by professionals and scholars who have studied your narrower topic. Those terms are certain to be helpful when you’re looking for sources later, so jot them down or otherwise remember them.

For instance, if you were going to do research about the treatment for humans with bird flu, this background reading would teach you that professionals and scholars usually use the term avian influenza instead of bird flu when they write about it. (Often, they also use H1N1 or H1N9 to identify the strain.) If you didn’t learn that, you would miss the kinds of sources you’ll eventually need for your assignment.

Most sources other than journal articles are good sources for this initial reading, including the New York Times or other mainline American news outlets, Wikipedia, encyclopedias for the discipline your topic is in (horticulture for the crabapple bud development topic, for instance), dictionaries for the discipline, and manuals, handbooks, blogs, and web pages that could be relevant.

This initial reading could cause you to narrow your topic further, which is fine because narrower topics lead to greater specificity for what you have to find out.After this upfront work, you’re ready to start developing the research question(s) you will try to answer for your assignment.

Tip: Keeping Track of Your Information

While you are in the background reading phase of your research you will come across a lot of sources and won’t know yet if they will prove useful in the long run. A handy type of software to help you keep track of all your findings is called citation management software. It will also be extremely valuable when it comes to using the resources you end up needing. Three of these tools are available for free to OSU students, staff and faculty. Learn more about these tools and how to access them.

Zotero, Thompson Reuters EndNote, and RefWorks product logos

Common Citations Tools


Fuel Your Inspiration

It’s worth remembering that reading, scanning, looking at, and listening to information resources is very useful during any step of the process to develop research questions. Doing so can jog our memories, give us details that will help us focus, and help us connect disparate information–all of which will help us come up with research questions that we find interesting.

License

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Background Reading by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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