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International Relations: Getting Started

This guide is for students majoring in International Relations or currently enrolled in a course.

The Research Process

research as process flow chart: idea, gen info, refine topic, research question, keyword search, adjust, share findings)

 

Research is an iterative process of inquiry that involves:

  • Finding information: picking a topic, developing a research question, and locating relevant sources
  • Evaluating information: assessing that selected sources are reliable, credible, and trustworthy 
  • Using information: ensuring that you are citing all sources found appropriately 

 

 

Before choosing a topic for your research, be sure that you understand the assignment. Look over any information that your professor gave you and ask for clarification if you are unsure about what is expected of you. Also, choose a topic that interests you.

When conducting academic research, topics work well when they are posed as a question. Good rule of thumb is that the shorter the paper, the more narrow the topic or question should be.  A good topic is: 

A subject that you are somewhat familiar with but not an expert on and that you would be interested in exploring further. Avoid topics that are:

  • Too broad: The Civil War
  • Too narrow: Women's hairstyles in 1942 
  • Have known conclusions: Harmful effects of secondhand cigarette smoke on health

You can use non-scholarly sources to locate more background Information about your topic in order to learn basic facts and relevant jargon.

 

NARROWING YOUR TOPIC

Video: Narrowing your topic

Keep in mind that the research process is not linear, but cyclical - you may have to come back and tweek your research question as you start learning more about your topic.

A good research question:

  • Has more than one possible answer
  • Cannot be answered with a simple yes or no
  • Defines specific parameters of inquiry
  • Does not favor a particular answer
  • Is engaging and relevant

Example: If you are interested in global warming - that's way too broad for even a 15-20 page paper! You will need to narrow it down depending on the length of your paper. For an 8-10 page paper, a more manageable topic would be "What effect has global warming had on polar bears in the Arctic Circle and their ability to hunt for prey?" Here we have narrowed our topic down by specific parameters of population (polar bears), geography (Arctic Circle), and subcategory (hunting and prey).

EVALUATING SOURCES

Video: Identifying source types

Source evaluation is the process of examining sources that you wish to use and determining not only if they meet your information need but if they are also credible, reliable, and trustworthy. Take a look at the CRAAP Test document below to see what questions you should ask yourself when evaluating sources. 

 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES

Video: Primary and secondary sources

It is important to know if the source is primary or secondary. Primary and secondary sources can both strengthen and improve your research immensely by providing you with information to create an argument and defend your thesis statement. 

Primary sources are direct, firsthand accounts about a topic of interest, be it a person, work of art, event, or even an object. Primary sources generally are created at the same time as the topic of interest. An example of primary sources are diaries, photographs,and newspapers. Primary sources  allows you to form your own argument to defend your thesis, since the information you are using is unfiltered by another person's point of view. You’re able to critique an original work using your own ideas. 

Secondary sources refer to primary sources either by describing, discussing, examining, investigating, reviewing, analyzing, evaluating, or critiquing them. An example of secondary sources are monographs, journal or magazine articles about your subject of interest, biographies, literary critiques, or reviews. Secondary sources allow you to learn about new perspectives that you may not have even considered, and they can also strengthen your own argument in the assignment 

 

CITING SOURCES

Video: Plagiarism

You must ALWAYS cite your sources or you may face accusations of plagiarism, which is an ethical violation of information use when one does not give credit where credit is due.

Committing plagiarism is a serious violation of the College's Honor Code and can result in your failure of an assignment or class or suspension or expulsion from the College as a whole. There are numerous resources available to you to help you cite appropriately including your department's Personal Librarian.

You always need to cite your source if you:

  • use a direct quote
  • paraphrase
  • use any information that isn't considered common knowledge
  • use statistics
  • use images or ideas from graphs, charts, or diagrams

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