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Home / Lillian & Milford Harris Library / Research Guides /
Steps / Step 1: Get an overview of your topic

Step 1: Get an overview of

your topic
When you begin any information gathering process, you
usually have a general idea of the topic you want to research.
For instance, you know you are more interested in the subject
of self-esteem in adolescents than you are in the area of
schizophrenia or vice versa. Obtaining background
information on your subject can provide you with a context
for your research and help you narrow your focus. Books can
provide you with background information on a topic in a
better way than journal articles. A book that is current can also
serve as a source for additional references. Be aware that
individual chapters in edited books usually focus on a specific
aspect of a topic and can be used in the same way as a journal
There are two ways of locating books by topic in a library
catalog: doing a keyword search and doing a subject search.
When you do a keyword search, the system looks in
additional fields like the title or tables of contents to find

words that match your search statement. Click here for more
information on doing a keyword search.
When you do a subject search, the system limits you to
predefined Library of Congress Subject Headings or Medical
Subject Headings. Subject headings generally give you better
search results, but you have to make sure to type in the correct
subject heading. For more information please review the
tutorial on searching by subject headings.
Doing a keyword search will always give you more titles than
doing a subject search. Sometimes you will want to narrow
your search results. You can do this by limiting.
Most online catalogs will use Boolean logic for keyword
searching. Click here for more information on Boolean logic.
One way to search for books to provide an overview is to use
the terms Encyclopedias or Handbooks as part of your
keyword search. Not only do they offer a good place to start,
they can provide a concise history or summary of topics and
terms in your area. Looking at encyclopedias and handbooks
can also help you to further refine your research.
Subject-specific dictionaries can be used to help you
understand the terminology used in a particular discipline.
Annual Reviews are also a good source of background
information. They are published in many disciplines and
summarize trends and research in a particular subject area.
Case Western Reserve University provides online access to

several Annual Reviews. They can be accessed through the

Research Databases section of the Library Catalog. Annual
reviews can also be searched as keywords in the Library
Once you have a better handle on your topic, you will need to
define your research statement. This is covered in Step 2.
Home / Lillian & Milford Harris Library / Research Guides /
Steps / Step 2

Step 2: Define Your Research

Topic And Identify
Appropriate Resources
Your research statement contains the major elements of the
topic you are investigating. When you define your research
statement you will want to find a balance between choosing a
topic that is too broad or too narrow.
Depression, Substance Abuse and Welfare Reform are all
examples of broad research topics. There are entire books
written on these subjects. To obtain more targeted
information, you will need to think about looking at just one

aspect of these topics.

For example:

What studies have been done on depression in men?

What contributes to failure in substance abuse treatment


What are the indicators used in judging the success of

welfare-to-work programs?

Depending on the context of your research, you may want to

narrow your hypothesis even further.
For example:

What is the relationship between depression and mid-life

issues in men?

Is there a correlation between relapse in substance abuse

treatment and level of education?

How does the issue of child care impact the success or

failure of mothers in the welfare-to-work transition?

To enable you to find books and articles related to your

research statement, it is very important to identify key
concepts. After you have defined your research statement, you
will need to identify key concepts related to your topic.
Usually you will be able to identify three or four main ideas.

If you are doing research on the effectiveness of substance

abuse treatment programs for women, your key concepts
would be:
(substance abuse)

Once you have identified the concepts, it is useful to identify

synonyms for the terms. Consulting a thesaurus will help you
find synonyms for concepts related to your specific subject
area. Click here for a list of thesauri owned by the Harris
substance abuse (alcohol, alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, drugs,
treatment (therapy, intervention, interventions, programs)
women (female, mothers, girls)
effectiveness (assessment, evaluation, outcomes, failure, success)

Typing in the singular or plural of a word can make a

difference when you are searching in an online system. Using
a systems truncation feature will allow you to search for
different variations of a word. The truncation symbol will
vary depending on the system you are using. ALWAYS check
the help menus of the system you are using for more
information on truncating.
Click here to print out a copy of a handout that will help you
organize your concepts.
Harris Library has also developed an interactive worksheet to
help guide you through the process of creating a search

strategy. Click here to use the worksheet and receive feedback

from a librarian via e-mail.
Once you have an overview of the concepts and context of
your research topic, you will want to find more specific
information using journals and newspapers. You are now
ready to begin gathering information. See Step 3 to Find
information on your topic.


Concept Worksheet (PDF)

Feedback Worksheet (PDF)


Step 3: Find Information On

Your Topic
After you have found books on your topic, have good
background information for your research, you will want to
obtain more specific information through information
resources other than books. Citations to journal and
newspaper articles are organized in an electronic format
through databases and in a print format through indexes and
abstracts. Case Western Reserve University provides you with
access to over 175 databases. Some of the databases offer the
full-text of journal articles; some provide an abstract and

citation only. All of them are listed under the Research

Databases section of the online library catalog.
Some databases are general in scope. They cover a wide
variety of subject areas and include citations from magazines,
newspapers and professional journals. General databases will
sometimes lead you to reviews of books relating to your topic.
These can help you identify book titles and authors that you
may want to use in your research.
Databases can also be very specific in focus. They are
designed to help you find journal and book citations in one
subject discipline Click here for a list of social science
databases available to you at Case Western Reserve
Databases are structured and searched in different ways.
All of them will allow you to do some kind of keyword
searching and many allow you to search by subject or
descriptor. Almost all online systems will use Boolean logic
for keyword searching. Click here for more information on
Boolean logic.Using the help screens available in each of the
databases will assist you in your searching.
Most databases that you use in libraries are available to you
because of licensing arrangements that have been made with
publishers. They are free to you but not to the University.
Access is usually limited to current affiliates of the institution.
Some organizations and government agencies, however, have
created databases that are available to you regardless of your

affiliation with a college, university or public library.

There is always a lag time between when articles appear in
print and when they are indexed by databases. Although
online databases are usually fairly current it can be useful to
browse current journals for articles on your topic. Browsing
current issues of journals allows you to look for articles that
might not yet be included in online databases.
Click here for a list of journals in the MSASS Harris Library.
Click here for a master list of electronic journals available to
Click here for a list of social science electronic journals
available on the web
Some online databases allow you to browse the tables of
contents online. These include the OhioLINK Electronic
Journal Center (EJC) and the Ingenta database. In the case of
the EJC you can also view the abstract or full text of the
article. Ingenta allows you to order documents and have them
faxed or e-mailed to you for a fee. These databases are
available to Case affiliates through the Research Databases
section of the online library catalog.
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Locating statistics
Once you have obtained information from books and journals,
you may want to expand your search to include statistical

resources. In addition to information from books and journals,

you will sometimes need statistics to support your research.
Statistics are made available either in print or electronic
format by various federal, state, local, and non-governmental
sources. They appear in!journal articles, in reports, or in
statistical handbooks.
Local organizations and agencies also keep statistics on the
populations they serve. These are often not available to the
public unless there is an obligation to report the information.
Finding this information may require contacting someone in
the organization. Annual reports of agencies may also provide
some of this information.
Increasingly statistics, particularly those that have been
collected by government agencies, are available on the web.
Click here for a list of statistical sources on the web.
To find statistical sources in books using an online catalog do
a keyword search combining terms related to your topic with
the word statistics. (For example: alcoholism and statistics,
Hispanic and statistics, violence and statistics, etc.). Click
here for more information on doing a keyword search.
Or do a subject search using Library of Congress subject
headings in one of the following formats. Click here for more
information on doing a subject search.
Hispanic Americans Statistics
Children Statistics
Older People United States Statistics

Social Services Statistical Methods

United States-Statistics

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Obtaining the resources

Online databases are distributed nationally and are not
specific to the holdings of one library. Your local library will
probably not have all of the sources that are cited in a
database. You will need to find out which library, if any, owns
the journal, book or report that is being cited. To do that at
Case you will use the online library catalog. Click here for
information on finding journal titles in the online catalog.
If you do not find the journal in any of the Case libraries, you
may use the Harris Librarys Interlibrary Loan service.
Although there is generally no cost associated with this, you
do need to allow at least 10 business days until you receive
the article. Click here for more information on Interlibrary
Loan services.
If you are looking for a book that is not owned at Case (or if
all of the campus copies have been checked out or are
unavailable), you can order the title through OhioLINK for
delivery to one of the campus libraries. Allow five business
days for delivery. Click here for more information on
OhioLINK borrowing.
If the book is not owned by an OhioLINK library, you can

submit an Interlibrary Loan request for the book. Click here

for more information on Interlibrary Loan services.
Dissertations are in a category of their own. Click here for
more information on obtaining dissertations.
Click here to go to Digital Case: Electronic Theses and
Click here to go to the OhioLINK Electronic Theses and
Dissertations Center.

Obtaining world wide web

Finally, the World Wide Web is a source of additional
information. The web is the place to go for policy and
position papers, reports and fact sheets, statistics and research,
and county and city level information. It is particularly useful
for policy information and community initiatives. Agencies of
the U.S. government, in particular, provide an excellent
starting point for web research. Although some full-text
journal articles are available free on the web, many
organizations just allow you to view the tables of contents of
their publications. Online subscriptions are also available for
some publications.
Information on the web may or may not be filtered, monitored
or peer-reviewed. Extra care should be taken in evaluating the
web site for currency, authorship, bias, and accuracy. Click

here for information on how to critically evaluate a website..

Different search engines will yield different results when you
do web searching. Click here for a list of search engines. Use
the HELP menus on the home pages of the search engines for
tips on effective searching. Once you have all of the
documents in hand, you will need to evaluate them to
determine if you need additional information or if you need
to narrow your focus. Evaluation criteria are covered in the
next step (Step 4).

Step 4: Evaluate The

Once you have collected information on your topic, you will
need to evaluate the content, focus and source of the resources
you have selected. You also need to look at the material you
have collected and determine if you have enough resources
or too many. Here are some guidelines to use when evaluating
Articles from journals can be divided into two general
categories popular and scholarly. It is important to have a
clear idea of the difference between the two. Click here for
more information on evaluating popular and scholarly articles.
In addition to print resources, you may also have collected

information from the web. Material retrieved from websites

should receive extra scrutiny. Click here for information on
how to critically evaluate a website.
After evaluating the sources, compare the information you
have collected against what you need to complete your

Do you need more resources?

Reframe your question so that it is not as narrow in


Re-examine the concepts you used in your search

enter broader terms if necessary.

Follow up on the references used in articles and book


Do an author search to find more articles written by that


Expand your use of databases to cover related


Do you have too much information?

You may need to narrow the focus of your research.

Use the resources that best fit the criteria for good

Ask for help!!! Sometimes your topic is fine, but the way that
you entered the terms or the databases you selected can result
in unsatisfactory results.
Once you have collected most of the information for your
research you are ready to begin writing. See Step 5 for tips on
writing and presenting your findings.

Books in the Harris Library

Girden, E. R., & Kabacoff, R. I. (2011). Evaluating research
articles from start to finish (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publications.


Ask For Help!


Evaluate Articles

Evaluate Websites



Home / Lillian & Milford Harris Library / Research Guides /

Steps / Step 5: Writing and Presenting Your Findings

Step 5: Writing And

Presenting Your Findings
The key to successfully writing your paper is organization
(writing skills help, too!). Here are some tips that may be

You should have a clear idea of your research hypothesis

by now. Make sure that this is stated clearly at the
beginning of your paper (or presentation).

Summarize the articles you have collected, identifying

the main points. If you have made a photocopy of an
article or book chapter, highlight the sentences or
paragraphs that are most applicable to your topic.

Start writing the sections that are clearest to you (these

dont always have to be written in order). Provide
background information and then add your supporting

Once you start writing you will be able to identify areas

where you still need more information. You can then
develop a new targeted search strategy to retrieve more
information. Your concepts may be much narrower than

at the beginning stages of your research.

Make sure that you have the correct citations for all of
your resources (dont wait until the last minute on this

The format of your writing will differ depending on the

expectations for the research.
It is important to provide information on where you obtained
the information that was used in your research.
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Cite your references

An important part of presenting your research is to
acknowledge the sources you used to gather the information.
One way of organizing your references is to use bibliographic
management software. This software allows you to create
your own files of references and can assist you in formatting
them according to the publication style you are using. Three
of the most popular programs are ProCite, Reference
Manager and EndNote.
Papers that are written by students for courses at MSASS
must adhere to the format created by the American
Psychological Association (APA). Copies of the print version
of The Publication Manual of the American Psychological
Association are on reserve in the Harris Library.

Note: Dont forget to spell-check and proofread your

document. You need to do both. They are NOT the same thing.
Back to Top

Present your research

The presentation of research can take many formats, although
typically a paper or report will be written to summarize the
findings. Often, in addition to a written report, the research
needs to be presented to classmates, colleagues or another
audience. Sometimes you want to include an audiovisual aid
in your presentation. The Harris Library has an extensive
video collection on a number of topics relating to social work
and social welfare.
Increasingly, presentation software is being used in group
settings to share the main ideas of a project. A number of
websites exist that provide information on how to effectively
use presentation software.
Everyone has different comfort levels in front of an audience.
Back to Top

Books in the Harris Library

Nicol, A. A. M., & Pexman, P. M. (2010). Displaying your
findings: A practical guide for creating figures, posters, and
presentations (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American
Psychological Association.

Nicol, A. A. M., & Pexman, P. M. (2010). Presenting your

findings: A practical guide for creating tables (6th ed.).
Washington, DC : American Psychological Association.


APA Manual

Tips for Making Effective Presentations

Video / DVD Search


Writing: Techniques & Formats

Literature Reviews

Annotated Bibliographies

Critical Review/Book Review

Using Bibliographic

APA Formatting

Library Catalog: How to Find Videos/DVDs

Presentation Software


Speaking Techniques