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History Research: Starting Your Research

Starting Out

Often times starting the research process is the most challenging. On this page there are some hints on creating a good topic, using keywords, search strategies and knowing how best to use a source.

Hints for Topics

  1. When you are creating a topic always be sure you include a TIME and a PLACE in your topic. This not only narrows your topic down  but it also makes for a much stronger research question. When you add the context of TIME and PLACE your searching becomes much easier because you create more keywords and search terms.
  2. While writing out your topic, challenge yourself to avoid the words EFFECT, AFFECT, INFLUENCE and IMPACT. These are called 'crutch' words and they add little to nothing to your topic. When you include these words it makes your topic vague and foggy. By avoiding those words your topic will be more concise, better written and your searches will go much smoother.
  3. Do some quick and easy topic searches BEFORE trying to write a topic for yourself. Part of writing in history is "joining the conversation" other researchers are having. By reading a few articles (even Wikipedia) before trying to create a topic you will have a better informed idea of what research is needed and what has already been done. You will also be able to see the language and "voice" being used in the writing so your topic can reflect that.

Module 1- Glossary Terms

  • Keywords: Important words from your research topic or research question. Keywords are more flexible than phrases or sentences for searching. The more keywords in your search, the fewer search results you will get.
  • Database: A collection of information, usually electronic. Usually refers to a place you can search for articles in journals and magazines. Databases index (or organize) articles, so that they are online and searchable. An example of a UWM database would be: Academic Search Complete.
  • Subjects: To help you find information in the library, databases can be searched in groups by their subject. For example, you can find all of the Health Sciences databases in one list. Or, you may want to search the list of History databases.

Topics, Keywords and Searching

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Search Creation Exercise