Somewhere in between your initial idea and settling on a research question, you'll need to do background research on how scholars in a particular subject area have discussed your topic. You may find background research in your textbook or class readings, academic books in the library's collection, or reference sources.
The databases below compile reference sources from a variety of disciplines, and they can be a great way to consider how your topic has been studied from different angles.
After you have an initial project idea, you can think deeper about the idea by developing a "Topic + Question + Significance" sentence. This formula came from Kate Turabian's Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. Turabian notes that you can use it plan and test your question, but do not incorporate this sentence directly into your paper (p. 13):
TOPIC: I am working on the topic of __________,
QUESTION: because I want to find out __________,
SIGNIFICANCE: so that I can help others understand __________.
Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Having trouble?
Turabian, Kate L. Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.
How do you move from a research question to searching in a database? You first have to pick out keywords from your research question.
Questions to Ask
Not all "articles" are the same! They have different purposes and different "architecture".
Peh, WCG and NG, KH. (2008) "Basic Structure and Types of Scientific Papers."
Singapore Medical Journal, 48 (7) : 522-525. http://smj.sma.org.sg/4907/4907emw1.pdf accessed 4/24/19.
Primary sources provide the raw data you use to support your arguments. Some common types of primary resources include manuscripts, diaries, court cases, maps, data sets, experiment results, news stories, polls, or original research. One other way to think about primary sources is the author was there.
Secondary sources analyze primary sources, using primary source materials to answer research questions. Secondary sources may analyze, criticize, interpret or summarize data from primary sources. The most common secondary resources are books, journal articles, or reviews of the literature.
Depending on the subject in which you are doing your research, what counts as a primary or secondary source can vary! Here are some examples of types of sources that relate to dragons in different disciplines:
|If your class is in...
|Primary Source Example
|Secondary Source Example
|More About the Fight With the Dragon
|Pottery Design Depicting a Dragon, Artefact from Peru (search for "pottery dragon" in Credo Reference)
|Encounters with Dragons: The Stones from Chavin
|Dragon's Blood Exerts Cardio-Protection Against Myocardial Injury...
|Dragon's Blood Secretion and Its Ecological Significance
There are many types of primary resources, so it is important to define your parameters by:
Look at the Primary and Secondary Sources guide for more clarification on what primary and secondary sources are in different disciplines!
Northwestern has access to millions of articles not available through Google!
From the library website, enter your keywords into the NUSearch search box. All results with those keywords in the title or description will appear in the search results. Limit your results to "Peer-reviewed Journals" for scholarly articles.
For a more specific search, go to one of the Libraries' many scholarly databases. If you know the name of your database, find it with Databases A-Z. Find subject-specific lists of databases in our Research Guides.
Searching a scholarly database is different from using a Google search. When searching:
To locate a book, use the NUsearch. The catalog will tell you the location and call number for retrieval. You can also request for books to be pulled and picked up at the Circulation desk of your choosing.
Borrowing Materials from other Institutions
Need to borrow a book Northwestern does not own or have an article PDF scanned and sent to you? Log into (or create) your interlibrary loan account. You may also check the status of your interlibrary loan requests here. Contact the Interlibrary Loan Department for more assistance.
Search for literature review articles in subject databases:
The document type "Review" is often used and may identify articles that are book reviews, software reviews or reviews of films, performances, art exhibits, etc.
When reading peer reviewed or academic articles, do not read them straight through! Instead, read the sections in the order that will best help you understand and analyze the content in relation to your own research question.
Chart derived from “How to Read and Comprehend Scientific Research Articles”,
a short video produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries
Amy Odwarka, as an intern for Instruction & Curriculum Support, fall 2019, Michelle Guittar, Head of Instruction & Curriculum Support, and other librarians: Chris Davidson, Becca Greenstein, Jason Kruse, Jeannette Moss, Gina Petersen, and Anne Zald.