Political Science Questions

June 23rd, 2014

This summer, we’ve been exploring what goes into good, academic research.  And although there are plenty of great basic skills and techniques usable for any discipline – which we covered in the first week – each subject taught at IU East has its own unique character and needs.  Here, we’ll look at the sources for your research in political science.

Like with most other academic topics, there are a number of excellent databases that will give you great research articles – start with a database like ProQuest Political Science or Military and Government.  Another great source is CQ Researcher (despite being named ‘Congressional Quarterly, it is produced by journalists, not the US government), which has incisive, deep reports on a variety of hot political topics from gun control and immigration to bullying and racial politics.  Each one also includes a chronology briefly describing major events affecting that issue.  If your topic is historical, you might try JSTOR or browse or book and ebook collection, as well.  All of our political science databases can be found here.

cqresearcher

One caveat – in many other disciplines, you have probably searched for ‘peer-reviewed’ journals.  You may have heard that these are more rigorous or accurate or scholarly than other articles, and they are: they are examined by other experts in the field – the ‘peers’ of the author – before they are published.  A lot of researchers limit their searching to only peer-reviewed articles out of habit.  But if you are researching an emerging topic or event going on right now, you definitely do NOT want to limit yourself to peer-reviewed articles.  The process of peer-review adds months, at least, to the time it takes to publish an article.  So if you want up-to-date information about, for example, the ISIS uprising in Iraq, you need articles that can be published far faster.

So, let’s say we were interested in researching what effect Colorado’s decriminalization of marijuana has had on non-medical uses of the drug. We might put together a search like this:

(marijuana OR pot OR cannib*) AND colorado* AND (criminal* OR legal* OR decriminal*) NOT (medic*)

Note that we are looking for three concepts – marijuana, the state of Colorado, and legality – and excluding another – medicine.  The synonyms grouped in parentheses and using wildcards help us find articles that may not use a word we expected, but that is still relevant.  If an article only uses the word ‘cannabis’ to refer to marijuana, for instance, we will still find it.

Just blindly typing in ‘colorado marijuana’ will give us a mix of medical and non-medical uses of the drug, and not necessarily look at the effects of its legal status – the article might only be interested in economics, for example.  There will be less false hits and more strong ones with our more focused search.

But like all areas of human knowledge, political science has several types of information that require different types of research.  Fortunately, we have plenty of material to meet these needs.

PARTISAN ARGUMENTS

For most subjects, objectivity is important.  Scholars try, as best as they are able, to minimize or eliminate their own biases from their work.  That’s true in political science, as well, to a certain extent.  It can be difficult – presumably, you decided to study this field because you were inspired by some political issue, so looking at something so personal objectively can be a daunting task.

But politics is made of people who approach issues very differently – sometimes bitterly so.  And studying those interactions and differences of opinion is crucial to the understanding of political science.  That’s where Opposing Viewpoints in Context comes in.  This database includes information on all the major political issues, including some news and research content – but its main distinction are ‘viewpoint’ articles, written by partisan leaders and clearly and articulately stating the positions and beliefs of each side.  These articles make no pretense of being unbiased, but they are an unparalleled source for quickly finding cogent and well-reasoned descriptions of major political viewpoints.

POLITICAL GROUPS

Political alliances are made up of smaller groups, and understanding those groups can be important.  How many members are there?  What are associated organizations, or their allies – is it an independent or subordinate group?  How do you contact them?  Do they have tax-exempt status?  If so, are donations made to them tax-deductible?  How much money do they have?  For these questions, databases like Associations Unlimited are excellent resources.  You can use this database to research organizations – or, if you are an activist, to join or donate to one.

associations

PENDING LEGISLATION

Recently, we looked at legal and criminal justice research.  There is some overlap with political science, too – but political science is also concerned with changing laws, and advocating for passing new laws.  This sort of proposed legislation – bills currently being debated in Congress – can be found through the Library of Congress.  Just choose “Legislation in Current Congress” and search by keyword, bill name, bill number, sponsor, or even what committee it came out of.  You can find out what the legislation is for, the current wording of the proposed bill, which chamber it’s in (House or Senate), who all sponsors or co-sponsors it, current status and amendments, and votes that have been taken.  It goes back to the 93rd Congress (1973), allowing you to ‘look behind the curtain’ at how a lot of existing law was made.

With all of these tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to do better and more nuanced research on political science topics.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at iueref@iue.edu!

English Questions

June 16th, 2014

If you’ve been following this blog, you know we’ve been examining how to do in-depth research in each of the major academic disciplines IU East offers.  There’s a lot that is the same for any type of scholarly research, and we started off looking at those general techniques.  But every field of study has its own, unique needs, and to be a great researcher, you need to learn them.  This week, we’ll look at English and literature.

Obviously, we have a lot of great general purpose databases for locating research articles – some of these include MLA International Bibliography and ProQuest Language and Literature.  But another great source is JSTOR, a database that has journal articles dating back more than a century.  Unlike research for a topic like medicine or science, this is a good thing.  Currency is nowhere near as important in the study of English or of literature as it is in some other disciplines.  A book or article even forty years old might be considered current, and those authors’ insights will be very useful to you.  All of our databases dealing with the study of literature or English can be found here.

So, let’s say we were researching a topic like “What kinds of Christian symbolism did Ben Jonson use in his plays?”  Putting the basic techniques we learned into practice, we might try a search like this:

jonson AND (religio* OR christ*) AND (theat* OR play* OR comed* OR traged*)

Notice how we’ve structured the search – we’re looking for three main concepts (grouped in parentheses), and are looking simultaneously for synonyms for those concepts.  A search like this will give us a lot more of what we need, and a lot less of what we don’t, than just typing ‘ben jonson’ and hoping for the best.

ben jonson photo from britannica

But, of course, literature and English have their own unique characteristics that set them apart from other disciplines.  Learning how to do good research in these areas will make you a much better student of English.  Fortunately, we have plenty of tools at your disposal.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The very nature of language plays a role in study, in a way that other disciplines don’t grapple with.  What does a word mean?  How is it being used?  Was its meaning different to the author than it is to us?  These are all questions that can help us understand a text or work of literature.  For some, a common dictionary would suffice.  But for a scholar, no source equals the Oxford English Dictionary.  The OED is a complete (and very thorough – the hard copy is well over twenty thousand pages long) dictionary, with normal definitions, pronunciation guides, and related words.  But it traces the development of the English language, too, showing how words entered English, what language they entered from, and how their usage and spelling changed over time.  It can be useful for dating an unknown text – is the language it uses contemporary?  It can be helpful for a writer, as well – if you are writing your own fiction, it can help you match your dialogue to the era.  Our extensive book and ebook collections contain numerous titles to help in the formal study of the English language as well, such as Ronald Carter’s Investigating English Discourse: Language, Literacy, Literature or M.A.K. Halliday’s Studies in English.

LITERARY CRITICISM

In examining a work of literature, it will often be put to interpretive criticism.  More than merely reviewing books, literary criticism interprets and evaluates the work in a variety of modern and historical contexts, such as a feminist or Marxist worldview.  Some criticism can be quite lengthy, examining a whole author’s corpus of work, or a particular literary movement.  Books and ebooks are the best sources for these sorts of criticism, and our collection includes titles like Studies in Literary Criticism and Theory and Twentieth Century Fiction: From Text to Context.  But for shorter critical writings, we have several databases entirely dedicated to the topic, including Literature Criticism Online and Literature Resource Center.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Learning about the author of a piece of literature can offer deep insight into what and why they wrote.  Unlike disciplines like science and medicine, where the author tries to remove their own individual quirks from their writing, these personal characteristics instead deepen and enrich literature.  We have numerous databases dedicated to this sort of study, including Contemporary AuthorsDictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online, and Something About The Author Online.  And again, books and ebooks can lend insight to hundreds of writers – a few samples include A Companion to William Faulkner and Mark Twain: A Short Introduction.

AREA STUDIES

Where a book was written, and by whom, gives cultural context to works of literature, as well.  As you might expect, we have lots of top-tier resources for examining these issues, too.  A sampling of the many databases we have that serve cultural literature study include Black Women Writers, Caribbean Literature, Early English Prose Fiction, Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period, Latino Literature: Poetry, Drama, and Fiction, and 20th Century American Poetry.  Our books and ebooks run the gamut, as well, with such titles as New Spain, New Literatures and The Literature of Ireland: Culture and Criticism.

PRIMARY SOURCES

Primary sources are anything written directly by a participant, rather than information that comes second-hand from interviewing or research.  They can include letters, diaries, personal notes, oral histories, and more.  Databases like Literature Resource Center and Litfinder allow you to limit a search to only primary materials like this, and other databases like British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries reflect the personal stories of types of authors that can be underrepresented in more general works.

litfinder

With all of these tools, doing research on literature or English topics will be much easier for you.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at iueref@iue.edu!

Law and Criminal Justice Questions

June 9th, 2014

For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at how to get the most out of scholarly resources for each discipline taught at IU East, and this week we’ll look at criminal justice.  Many of these methods will build off of the general techniques we explored earlier, but some are unique to this field.

Like medicine, law is another type of information that you don’t want to leave to the free web.  There’s a lot of misinformation and commercial material out there, and it can be hard to determine fact from advocacy.  Fortunately, there are plenty of good, reliable tools – and all of our criminal justice-related sources can be found here.  Databases like SocIndex or ProQuest Criminal Justice are perfect for high-quality articles and research on legal and criminal justice topics like law enforcement, corrections, rehabilitation, family law, or drug enforcement.

So, if we had a topic like “What are the prevalence or types of police misconduct, not counting extreme things like tampering with evidence or framing a defendant?”  Using our basic techniques, we might construct a search like this:

(police OR law enforcement) AND (accountabil* OR corrupt* OR misconduct) NOT (tamper* OR alter* OR frame*)

You can see that we’re looking for two distinct concepts with this search (the words grouped in parentheses) and excluding a third concept (the types of misconduct we’re not interested in).  A search like this will give us more of what we want, and less that we don’t.  If we’d just typed ‘police misconduct’ and hit the search button, we would miss a lot of articles relevant to us and get back others that focused on the wrong things.  Although it can seem time-consuming, setting up a good search always improves the speed and accuracy of research.

But while these databases are great, the most comprehensive legal source is Lexis Nexis.  Lexis Nexis also includes news and business information, but the true strength of the database is in the depth and connectedness of its legal information.  And it is indeed powerful – you can look up any federal or state legal case.  You can look at the United States or any individual state’s constitution, legal code, statutes, administrative regulations, or court rules.  You can browse law review journals.  You can even look up patents.  Some legislation and case law from Canada and the European Union are also included.

Some of this material is in the public domain – Indiana case law, for example, can be found on the state’s website.  But Lexis-Nexis is organized and interconnected in a way that makes it by far your best choice for legal research.  And it is well-suited for many of the specific needs of legal researchers.

CODE LAW VS. CASE LAW

‘Code’ or ‘Statutory’ law is law created by legislators, like Congress.  They write and pass laws, which courts then interpret and enforce.  Often codes are quite lengthy and specific, covering many tens of thousands of pages, and in a country like the United States, there is a delicate interplay between what is covered by Federal laws (laws affecting the whole country) and State laws (which can differ greatly in defining crimes and their punishments).

However, legislators can never predict every eventuality, so frequently courts will have to interpret the law’s intent in a new situation.  Case law, or Precedent, is the practice of courts to respect previous court decisions in ruling on their cases, so as to make legal decisions more predictable and fair.  Precedent can be used directly, or to inform a similar, but not quite the same, situation.

lexis nexis search

In Lexis Nexis, under ‘search by content type’, choose the type of law that you want.  So for statutory law, you may want something like Burns Indiana Code § 35-42-1-1, the statute which describes homicide.  Or, if you’re interested in a specific case, you may look for a federal decision like Roe v. Wade , 410 U.S. 113 or an Indiana decision like Castor v. State, 587 N.E.2d 1281.  Regardless, you have a lot of options – you can search by keyword, citation, or the names of the parties.

‘SHEPARDIZE’ A CASE

Almost always, you need to know how a point of law has been used in later cases.  For decades, a product that did this was Shepard’s Citations, a company that indexed cases by whenever they were mentioned in later rulings or decisions – so lawyers came to refer to doing this type of research as ‘Shepardizing’ a case.  That company was purchased by Lexis Nexis, and is now an integral part of the database.  The online version is easier to use than the old book format – start by simply pull up a case, such as Scott v. Sandford , 60 U.S. 393.

dredd scott shepardized

The red stop sign on the left side of the screen is a warning that a major point of law used in this case has been subsequently overridden.  A yellow warning sign indicates that there may be some change, and a green symbol means the case or point of law is still valid.  To find out, on the right side of the screen, under ‘next steps’, choose ‘Shepardize this’.  In this example, we can see that the decision has been ‘superseded’ by subsequent decisions and laws – that is, it is no longer valid.  If the case was ‘followed by’ others, it would still be valid.  The whole legislative history is listed below (the Dredd Scott case is a fairly extreme example, and the legislative history for this one is very lengthy).

LEGAL STATISTICS

The best source for reliable statistical information is the United States government.  Several publications cover different aspects of legal, crime, and law enforcement statistics.  The most comprehensive of these is the Statistical Abstract of the United States (section 5 deals with criminal justice topics), although it ceased publication in 2012 due to budget cuts.  Fortunately, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI Uniform Crime Reports offer in-depth information on a variety of topics, including data on both victims and offenders.  Individual states also produce crime statistics, but with less consistency than the federal government.

With these tools, starting research on a criminal justice topic will be much easier.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at iueref@iue.edu!

Education Questions

June 2nd, 2014

These last few weeks, we’ve been exploring where and how to do deep, scholarly research in the various disciplines, and this week we will look at education.  Building off the general techniques we explored earlier, there are a lot of great sources for education research, and tools that meet the unique needs of teachers-to-be.

For research articles, powerful tools like ERIC and ProQuest Education are the best sources to start with.  If you’re interested in teaching theory, Professional Development Collection is an excellent choice.  And depending on the grade level you’re interested in, there are even more databases designed for you – Primary Search for elementary grades, Middle Search for middle school grades, and MAS Ultra School Edition for high school.  And ProQuest Dissertations, while not solely dedicated to education topics, has a remarkable depth.  All of our education oriented databases are listed together here.

So, for example, we might have a question like “At the grade school level, what is the best way to promote an inclusive classroom when teaching mathematics?”  Using the basic techniques we’ve studied in education databases, we might use a search like this:

classroom* AND (inclusive OR inclusion) AND (elementary OR primary) AND math*  NOT (high school OR college) 

ebscoedsearch

You can see that we’re looking for four concepts with this search (the words marked with asterisks or grouped in parentheses) and excluding a fifth concept (a grade level we’re not interested in).  A search like this will give us what we need quickly.  If we’d just typed ‘inclusive classroom’, we would have had to browse through many more articles that were not relevant to us.

But education has a number of special topics and needs that aren’t similar to what you would look for in any other discipline.  Fortunately, there are plenty of sources for those needs, too.

STANDARDIZED TESTING

Standardized tests are a fact of life in any level of education, and you may need to teach students how to prepare for one (or even to prepare for a graduate level test like the GRE, GMAT, or LSAT yourself).  The Testing & Education Reference Center has information, study materials, and practice tests for all levels of education from high school through doctoral study – including some major international tests.  And eBrary, while dedicated to more types of books than ones about testing, has a number of excellent study guides for the major standardized exams, as well as academic books critiquing them.

CURRICULUM STANDARDS

What does your course need to include?  A major part of a new teacher’s work is creating content for their courses that meets very specific learning objectives.  Some of these are dictated by the school, but others are decided by the state.  What standards your curriculum needs to adhere to will depend on where you teach, but in Indiana, the Department of Education has laid these out in significant detail, from Kindergarten through High School.  These include core and discipline-specific standards for every type of course you might teach.  Because these standards can change from year to year, keeping up with the curriculum standards for your courses can be a major part of a teacher’s personal continuing education.

LESSON PLANS AND WORKSHEETS

Curriculum standards are important general guidelines, but the actual practice of teaching includes far more.  What will you say in class?  What questions will you put on your tests and quizzes?  What sorts of handouts and activities will you have your students do?  Obviously, you have a lot of freedom to make this part of the job your own.  You can make up your own lesson plans, and don’t need to blindly follow what someone else has done.  But it can be very helpful to see samples, or modify something to fit your needs.

teachingbooks

Databases like Teaching Books are excellent for this.  It includes book guides and lesson plans for over 15,000 books, for readers from kindergarten to 12th grade.  Suggestions are given for how to prepare and evaluate, as well as handouts and activities.  And the Indiana Department of Education can again be a great resource, particularly as their lesson plans and handouts will already conform to Indiana curriculum standards.  InDoD’s internal search engine isn’t the best, but you can search their webpage easily using the ‘site’ command in Google.  Try a search like this:

lesson plans site:.doe.in.gov

To get back hundreds of results that have been vetted by InDoD.  While doing academic research on the free internet is always risky, using the ‘site’ command like this can effectively eliminate spurious commercial results.

With these tools, looking for research on education can be easy.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at iueref@iue.edu!

Nursing Questions

May 26th, 2014

Recently, we looked at how to do basic research.  Those techniques will serve you well any time you’re searching for information, but if you’re doing nursing research, there are several great tools available to you at IU East that will help you with this very specialized topic.

Medicine is one of the fields where reliance on scholarly, vetted resources is the most important.  While there are a few trustworthy medical websites on the free web, such as PubMed and the Mayo Clinic, in general medical advice on the free internet should be avoided at all costs.  The practice of medicine is too complex, and situations too linked to individual patient histories, to trust an anecdotal story someone put up on their blog.

Databases like CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), Nursing and Allied Health, MedLine, and Journals@OVID are among the very best sources for high-caliber, vetted information.  Chances are, you’ll use these databases more than any other (and all of our other nursing-oriented databases can be found here).  The library has produced several nursing database video tutorials for the larger databases to make them easier to use, such as this one:

So, using the basic techniques we’ve learned, if we had a question like “What are the health problems that need to be addressed on the Chinle, Arizona reservation?”  We would start with a database like CINAHL and try a search like:

(navajo OR chinle) AND (health* OR medic* OR nurs*) AND (problem* OR concern*)

You can see that we’re looking for three concepts in the question (which we have grouped in parentheses), and our search includes synonyms for each of them to make sure we don’t miss anything.  We’ve also limited to only full text articles.  Setting up a search like this gives us many more great options than if we had just typed “chinle health” and hoped for the best.

In the field of nursing, though, there are several special types of information you will need that don’t have equivalents in other disciplines.  We have special tools for these, too.

DRUG INTERACTIONS

What medicines do, what their side effects are, how they interact with other drugs being taken or existing medical conditions – these are incredibly important concerns of any medical practitioner.  And how specific these issues are to each individual patient’s case makes the application of medicine a very complex subject.  However, detailed guidebooks like the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) and Mosby’s Drug Guide for Nurses can make a huge difference.  Look up drugs by brand name or generic name, browse dosage guides and the results of clinical studies, check precautions and known adverse reactions, even determine whether the drug can be transmitted, such as through breast milk.  The PDR even has supplemental volumes covering herbal medicines and non-prescription drugs.

POINT-OF-CARE DECISIONS

More and more frequently, evidence-based practice (EBP) is considered the best course of action to inform all practical point-of-care decisions.  While many databases include some quantitative evidence-based practice among their other qualitative or theoretical studies, IU East has several databases that are completely dedicated to evidence-based medicine and research studies that conform to it.

UpToDate is one of these, offering quantitative backing for practice of any disease or disorder, broken down by patient characteristics like adult or juvenile recipients.  It is good for finding diagnoses, treatments, possible challenges, and more.  Graphs and illustrations are included, as well.  Another choice is the Joanna Briggs Institute EBP, one of the OVID databases.  It allows you to search patient needs by category, such as rehabilitation, cancer, or the elderly, and offers data, protocols, and fact sheets.  Its recommendations are graded by how well the quantitative research backs the suggested option – grade A means that there is strong support that merits application, grade B means there is moderate support, and grade C indicates that the option, while sometimes used, is not well supported by quantitative research.

With these tools, looking for medical or nursing information can be easy.  But if you need any additional help, please contact us at iueref@iue.edu!