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Africana Studies Subject Guide — Getting Started

Interdisciplinary guide for Africana/African American Studies

Starting Your Research

Starting a research project can sometimes feel overwhelming. By breaking your research down into different phases, you can better organize your work and make the process more manageable. Let's take a look at the different phases. 

Tips for Searching

1. Start with the UConn Library website (not Google!): 

2. To begin searching, enter a keyword or phrase into the search box. 

Bonus tip! Combine multiple keywords or phrases to create a more specific search and use quotation marks around your names and phrases. Example: "African Americans" + "hip hop" or "Booker T. Washington" + "Black education" 

3. Use the filters on the left-hand side of the screen to narrow the search results. For example, you can narrow your search to peer-reviewed journal articles within a specific date range. 

4. Try and try again! Searching is sometimes a trial & error process. Experiment with different keywords and phrases. 

Tools for Researchers

Graphic created by Stephanie Birch. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Research Building Blocks: Steps 1-3

Steps to take in Phase 1

1. Identify your topic 
2. Gather background information and begin to build knowledge 
3. Define the scope of your research 
4. Formulate research questions 

What does it mean to define the scope of my research? 
The scope of your research is the limitations you place on your project, or the focus you set for 
yourself. This is a really helpful step if your professor tells you that your topic is too broad or your 
mind is overflowing with ideas. Your goal is to complete your assignment, which means you have to set 
limitations. So, save some of those brilliant ideas for a future project!

How to define your scope 
Ask yourself these questions about your topic:

Who: What individuals or communities are involved in my topic:
What: What are the most important / significant actions, events, things you want to address:
When: What time period is your research relevant to?
Where: What geographic geographical area or regions do I want to focus on?

Sample Topic and Scope:
Topic: African Americans and the making of the West
Who: Black cowboys, Nat Love, John Ware
What: Cattle drives, war service, rodeo
When: Reconstruction and Jim crow eras
Where: American West 
What is a research question?
A research question is a question that you set out to answer through your research. 
It can be very helpful to create multiple quuestions, which formulate the different aspects of your 
topic. You can do this by asking a main question or hypothesis question, followed by a series of 
sub-questions that dig deeper into your topic. 

How do I write a research question?  
A social science research question is typically an open-ended question (not a yes/no question), and it 
is a question that is answerable. Here are some examples: 

Example Question: 
Are Black students motivated to apply to UF because of the University's Top 5 ranking? 

This question has several issues: First, it is a yes/no question that doesn't allow you to investigate 
or delve further. Secondly, it is very challenging to understand someone's motivations, let alone the 
motivations of an entire group of people. You would likely struggle to find a source that provides any 
information to help you answer this question unless you conducted your own survey. Lastly, the question 
is biased in that it assumes top 5 status is or may be a motivating factor. 

Better Question:
What factors do Black undergraduate students consider when applying to PWIs? 

This question is an improved version of the previous example. It is open-ended and it eliminates the 
bias. The phrasing of the question makes it more answerable because it is more likely that there is an 
existing scholarly publication or study on this topic. 

Phase 2: Gathering Information & Building Knowledge

If you followed in the stops in Phase 1, you should be well on your way to building a great research project. In Phase 2, the objective is to find and evaluate sources that you will want to use in your project. Your research questions will provide you will a preliminary word bank of terms to use. you can also create a word bank of synonyms or related terms to search. As you begin to discover sources, you will want to evaluate the quality and relevancy of the material. If a source doesn't help you answer your research questions, you may want to consider other options. 

Steps to take in Phase 2: 

1. Identify search terms or phrases 
2. Collect sources and build knowledge 
3. Evaluate sources 

How many sources do I need? 
At a minimum, you will need at least one source to help you answer each research question. 
If you don't have at least one source for each question, keep searching. You aren't ready to 
begin writing. 

How do I evaluate a source? 
Interrogate the source, the author, and the publisher. Ask yourself these questions:  

- Is the journal peer-reviewed or refereed? You can typically find this information by going 
to the journal's website on an "about" page. 

- What is the author(s) scholarly record? Is the author an expert in this field? 

- For books, what is the publishing company and what types of materials do they produce? 
(e.g. scholarly, popular reading, self-publish, etc.)

- What the research funded by an organization, corporation, or government entity? 

- For news or web sources, look at the about page to determine the credibility of the source. 
Is it trustworthy? Search for online news sources on Media Bias / Fact Check. 

Phase 3: Information Analysis & Knowledge Production

Now that you've asked your research questions and you've found and read your sources, you should be ready to answer your research questions, organize your ideas, and begin writing. The answers to your research question will now form the basis of your paper. By answering your hypothesis and sub-questions, you've created your thesis and a series of claims, which you can support with evidence from sources. You have all the tools you need! Just claim it, explain it, and cite it! 

Steps to take in Phase 3: 
  1. Analyze & Interpret sources 
  2. Answer your research questions 
  3. Formulate a thesis 
  4. Report findings & conclusion