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REL 3625: Religion, Nation, and State - Borchert (Fall 2023)


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Daisy Benson
David W. Howe Memorial Library, Room 100

Welcome to the Library!

This research guide is designed to help you with all aspects of your research for the Research Paper: advice for successful research, finding background information, finding useful journal articles and books, evaluating information sources, citing sources in Chicago Style [Notes & Bibliography].

The Research Process

  • Research is an iterative process. There is no "perfect search" - just degrees of relevancy or usefulness. Be prepared to run multiple searches using a variety of terms, and to revisit article databases as you refine or adjust your research, and perhaps, your topic. This takes time!
  • Journal articles usually address one narrow aspect of a larger topic.  Search for articles after you have a good working knowledge of your topic. Use books in the library, as well as reference sources, such as encyclopedias and handbooks, to find background information on events, ideas, people, places, etc.
  • In books and articles, look at the bibliographies/lists of works cited. These will highlight additional books, book chapters, and articles that will be useful for your research.
  • Evaluate your sources not only for authority and reliability, but think about why and/or how you would use the content in the source for your paper. Does it fill an information gap? Does it provide a counterpoint to your other sources?, etc.

How to Choose a Topic

The best papers emerge from your interest in a research area--if you're not interested in it, why should the reader be?

  • Discuss topic ideas that interest you with your professor.
  • Look at the topics covered in your course readings.
  • Think about the topics discussed in class resulting from the course readings and/or from your professor's lectures.
  • Read essays or entries of interest to you in encyclopedias and dictionaries listed in this guide. One or more might spark your interest.

As you begin to think about your topic....

  • What do you already know about this topic, and what parts of it caught your interest?
  • Make sure to do some reading on your topic before you start, especially if you're new to the field. An encyclopedia essay may be useful to introduce even more aspects of a topic. Also, check the news to see what the conversation is.

How to Narrow a Topic

Areas of focus may be:

  • time period (current, historical, ongoing?)
  • geographic region, specific place, specific culture
  • demographic group (gender, age, economic status, educational level, ethnicity/culture/race, etc.)
  • specific aspect (religious, political, environmental, medical, economic, legal, etc.) of the topic
  • specific event related to the general topic
  • specific person/s associated with that topic

Based on the scope of your paper, sometimes exploring one focus is appropriate; sometimes more than one focus is appropriate. You'll determine this once you begin searching, based on whether you're finding way too much or very little information.

An encyclopedia essay may be useful to introduce even more aspects of a topic.  Sometimes it takes several attempts to properly refine a topic. You are aiming for a research question that will enable you to make good decisions about what kind of source material you need and where you should look for that material.

Sometime using a “Concept Map” helps you create a visual diagram of the thinking you are engaged in, so you can reflect, sort, and refocus the ideas easily. Concept mapping is a good way to visualize the connections your mind makes between concepts and ideas. A concept map often generates keywords and synonyms/related terms.  When trying to create a research question, concept mapping helps organize your thoughts and can lead you to isolate ideas that can make for a solid research paper.

There are no wrong answers! This is the phase of researching when you can let your mind go wherever it wants to.