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This research guide is intended to help you select a term paper topic and conduct research to support your discussion.
If you would like to talk to someone about your specific research question, Ask a Librarian OR contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication.
PPT presentation [September 2018)
If you need help, please contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication & Contemporary Arts at SFU Vancouver: 778.782.5043 (main) SFU Burnaby: 778.782.3681 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Ask a librarian.
Exploring possible topics
Suggested strategies for finding a term paper topic:
1) Review your course readings and lecture notes for ideas
It's useful to select a topic that comes from something you already know and have an interest in exploring more fully. Course readings may also help you find other topics as they will include a bibliography or reference list.
One of the advantages of starting with scholarly sources, such as your course readings, is that they often provide a list of additional resources on your topic. These bibliographies (also called references, works cited, or further reading) list the sources consulted by the author in the course of their research and provide citations so you can find these works for yourself.
2) Browse entries in a specialized encyclopedia that covers your topic.
Subject specific encyclopedias contain a short overview of topics, written by experts in the field. Entries often including descriptions of key approaches to research, specialized vocabulary (useful as search terms), and a bibliography to direct you to sources of more in-depth discussion.
Some examples of good background sources:
Particularly useful for finding out about mass media issues in Canada. Search for your medium (e.g. television) and read through the articles for leads to regulatory information, related articles, etc.
The international encyclopedia of communication
Provides introductions to most communication topics.
Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications
See list of communication issues in contents. Also provides communication issues by country.
International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences
Includes discussions of communication and media related topics.
Other specific sources you may want to try:
World Press Encyclopedia
Covers issues related to newspapers and journalism in countries around the world.
The Advertising age encyclopedia of advertising [print]
Censorship: A world encyclopedia [print]
3) Search news sources
News media can provide you with examples of how issues in your studies surface in daily life.
Try searching the following news indexes for your topic. News stories are written for non-specialist readers so you may need to try
A major index for Canadian newspapers, popular and business magazines, and scholarly journals; cross disciplinary with some full text articles.
Full text for major Canadian dailies and weekly newspapers; good for identifying regulatory issues for the media.
Full page images of newspapers from around the world; current 30-60 days of issues available for each paper.
Quality assurance for information sources
As well as background information, you will need to find some in-depth information, discussion of the issues, analysis of research, etc. which can be found chiefly in scholarly books and articles in academic journals.
Your essay proposal & bibliography assignment requires that you provide evidence to support your discussion, from a variety of scholarly information and other sources.
Academic journal articles and books can be found in both print and electronic formats in the SFU Library collection.
Critically evaluate the quality of the source by asking the following questions:
- Is a date of publication provided? Is the source current enough for your purposes?
- What is the expertise of the author? Do they have an advanced academic degree? Are they affiliated with a university or research institution or government department?
- Who has published the information? Is it a government body, university or credible scholarly publisher?
- Are other research sources cited? This is a standard academic practise and what you would expect of credible information sources.
- Is the information accurate and complete? Is it consistent with what you've found in other credible sources?
- Is there evidence of objectivity? Does the creator of the information have a financial or political interest that may bias the information?
- Is there evidence of quality control, e.g. professional editing, no obvious errors such as poor spelling, grammar, coherence, organization?
For more details on selecting scholarly journal articles for your research, see our guide to What is a Scholarly Journal.
The best journals are peer-reviewed which means each submission is judged by a panel of experts in the discipline before it's accepted for publication. When using journal articles, Ulrich's Periodical Directory will tell you if it's a peer-reviewed journal.
When you're using a book, the author's credentials can often be found in the first few pages.
Web sites may contain useful information from government bodies, media activist groups, industry associations and other credible sources. However, as you know, you can also find much old, incomplete and inaccurate information on web sites because there's no editor on the World Wide Web, to ensure only valuable information is published.
Web sites often provide information about the organization who's created the information, linked from the homepage using a label like "About this organization" or "Mandate".
Research findings, theory and analysis in articles
Periodicals indexes include records that describe articles in journals, magazines and newspapers. They allow you to find citations to articles on one topic in many journals without having to look through each issue of each journal.
Periodical indexes exist in all subject areas and virtually no subject is limited to one index. There are subject specific indexes and multidisciplinary indexes. Your topic may be covered in several indexes, from different perspectives. A good search strategy includes using more than one article index.
Some indexes cover primarily scholarly literature, some cover popular literature, and some a mixture of both.
Some indexes include the full text of articles, while others provide an abstract, describing what the article is about, and a citation.
Indexes to articles in Communication journals
The following list of indexes is a good starting place to find articles dealing with Communication topics:
Cross disciplinary article indexes:
Humanities & Social Sciences Index
Citations for major English language scholarly journals in all humanities and social sciences disciplines, including communications.
Web of Science
Indexes scholarly sources & permits citation searching so you can see who's cited an article since it's been published.
Academic Search Premier
Scholarly and popular coverage, cross disciplinary, much full text.
Other indexes covering aspects of mass media:
A major index for Canadian publications; especially good for finding information about Canadian media policy.
Indexes sociological literature, including communication. Good for topics about collective behaviour, diversity & gender related issues, crime.
Business Source Complete
Business literature index, good for media and cultural industries, advertising and marketing topics.
Literature in the field of psychology and psychological aspects of related disciplines.
Education-related literature, useful for topics relating to children, educational technology, media education.
If you're not sure which index is the best fit for your topic, Ask a librarian. Librarians are always happy to consult about effective research strategies and would be glad to help you get started.
Do a keyword search for your topic and look at relevant citations for an appropriate subject heading to use to focus your searches If you don't find enough, consider using a synonym for your search term or a broader or narrower term.
Narrow down your results by using a limiting feature or adding another concept to your search. For example, instead of searching for "broadcasting", search for "broadcasting policy" or "broadcasting and policy"
Your search results include citations for journal articles, the title and author(s) names and tell you where to find the article by specifying which journal and which volume, number, date and pages. A citation is the information you need to find the article in the library or request a copy from another library.
Winseck, Dwayne. (1998). Pursuing the Holy Grail. Information highways and media reconvergence in Britain and Canada. European Journal of Communication. 13 (3, September), 337-374.
How to interpret the citation:
- Dwayne Winseck is the author of the article.
- "Pursuing the Holy Grail..." is the article title.
- This article was published in volume 13, issue 3 of the journal called European Journal of Communication, on pages 337 to 374.
- The publication date was September of 1998.
Most databases will indicate whether SFU subscribes to the journal being cited in either print or electronic form. Look for the link labelled Where can I get this? in the database record.
In-depth information in books
Books and reports are a good source of in-depth information for your research paper. Use the Library catalogue to locate material that SFU owns, such as books, encyclopedias, directories, and government reports
NOTE: You can also use the catalogue to determine if SFU subscribes to a specific journal or newspaper but not to locate articles on your topic. To search for articles on your topic, across a range of journals, you need to use a periodicals index (see Articles below).
Use the default catalogue keyword search to find books with your search term appearing somewhere in the record: the title, author, subject heading or notes field. If you find a useful looking title, you can use the subject headings appearing in the record to find other books on the same topic or search by the author's name to see if he/she has written any other pertinent books.
If you find several books that have similar call numbers, that tells you that books on your topic classify together so you can browse the shelves nearby to find similar books.
Advanced searching techniques
When searching electronic sources (index databases, the web), be aware that computers operate on a literal basis.
For example, if you search for "Canada", you will not pick up records that use "Canadian" instead. Your search term must exactly match words used in the information source.
Consider the search terms you're going to use to search for information. If you don't find good matches for your first search terms, consider trying these strategies:
Variations in spelling or abbreviations:
television or tv
television or broadcasting or programming or programs
Broader or narrower terms:
television or cable television or satellite television or specific genres of television
- Search for a specific case study and see if you can generalize to a broader topic, based on the words used in your result records
As you search the article databases and library catalogue, look at records for items that seem relevant. Note the subject headings or descriptors used in these records and use these as search terms.
Subject headings selected from a list of standard terminology, after a human had done an analysis of the information to determine what it is about.
If you conduct a search using controlled subject headings or descriptors, you can feel confident that you've found all records that focus on your topic. For example, the SFU Library Catalogue uses the subject heading terms "electronic games", "computer games", "video games", and "internet games" to describe books about digitally based games. All may have useful titles gathered under them, with slightly different perspectives. .
REFINING YOUR SEARCH
Ideally, you should capture most documents that are significantly about your topic, without missing really key information and not having to wade through hundreds of records to find a good one. When using databases, such as the Library catalogue and the article indexes, you can use the following techniques to improve the relevancy of your results.
Too few or no results?
- Check for spelling errors or typos
- Use truncation (*) at the end of root words, to find all variations
e.g. broadcast* will find broadcast, broadcasts, broadcasting.
- Think of synonyms for your search term and join them together with OR
e.g. television or broadcasting or programs
- Choose a broader or related topic word
- Try searching a different database
Too many results?
- Narrow your focus by adding another word to your search with AND
e.g. broadcasting and Canada
- Limit your search by date, language, format (e.g. journal articles only)
- Use more specific terminology
e.g. soap operas rather than television
- Search in the citation fields rather than in full text
- When you find a good record, use the subject headings to search for only those records which focus on this topic
Search tools such as the Library catalogue and article indexes differ from web search engines in significant ways. For example, search results in most article indexes are listed in chronological order, with the most recent articles at the top of the list. Google ranks results according to the relevancy to the search terms, with relevancy determined in part by how many other pages link to this one.
Writing your paper
This term paper gives you a chance to develop and improve writing skills that you will use throughout your academic career.
Take this opportunity to focus on improving any aspects of your research and writing process that aren't as efficient and effective as they could be -- and start with the SFU Student Learning Commons and the SFU Library when you need help. The SFU Student Learning Commons offers:
Documenting your research
It is a convention of academic writing to cite the research you've consulted, both to give credit to the intellectual contributions of another and to show how your work fits with the accepted body of knowledge for your discipline.
The SFU Library provides guides to the major citation styles, including examples of citing most information sources such as books, articles, web sites, etc. If you don't find an answer to your citation question in these guides, Ask a Librarian.
If you're not sure how to use sources appropriately, check out the Library guide to avoiding plagiarism. You can also find help with ensuring academic integrity from the staff at the SFU Student Learning Commons.
Note details about your information sources as you find them, as well as your search strategies and keywords. You can easily save citation lists from databases or catalogue into a file so you can use them in your paper's bibliography.
Citation or reference management tools collect your journal article, book, or other document citations together in one place, and help you create properly formatted bibliographies in almost any style — in seconds. Citation management tools help you keep track of your sources while you work and store your references for future use and reuse.