When you do background research, you're exploring your general area of interest so that you can form a more focused topic. You will be making an entry into an ongoing conversation, and you have the opportunity to ask new questions and create new knowledge.
Why is this important?
Have you ever done a project that just never seemed to come together?
"I had a general idea but not a specific focus. As I was writing, I didn't know what my focus was. When I was finished, I didn't know what my focus was. My teacher says she doesn't know what my focus was. I don't think I ever acquired a focus. It was an impossible paper to write. I would just sit there and say, "I'm stuck." If I learned anything from that paper it is, you have to have a focus. You have to have something to center on. You can't just have a topic. You should have an idea when you start. I had a topic but I didn't know what I wanted to do with it. I figured that when I did my research it would focus in. But I didn't let it. I kept saying, 'this is interesting and this is interesting and I'll just smush it all together.' It didn't work out." -(Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century)
Can you relate?
Doing background research to explore your initial topic can help you to find create a focused research question. Another benefit to background searching - it's very hard to write about something if you don't know anything about it! At this point, collecting ideas to help you construct your focused topic will be very helpful. Not every idea you encounter will find its way into your final project, so don't worry about collecting very, very detailed information just yet. Wait until your project has found a focus.
While you're doing you're background research, don't be surprised if your topic changes in unexpected ways - you're discovering more about your topic, and you're making choices based on on the new information you find. If your topic changes, that's OK!
Identifying what interests you in the context of your assignment can help you get started on your research project.
Some questions to consider:
Why is your project interesting/important to you? To your community? To the world?
What about your project sparks your curiosity and creativity?
Some ideas from the Reference Librarians at Gustavus Adolphus
-Source: The Reference Librarians at Gustavus Adolphus College
It can be very helpful to write out your thoughts as you work through the answers to these questions.
Think about what you need to know:
And of course...
When you are doing your research, you are not looking for one perfect source with one right answer. You're collecting and thinking critically about ideas to form a focus for your own research.
If you're having trouble answering these questions, you might find the six journalist's questions helpful in focusing your thinking:
Don't feel like you need to get bogged down in the minutiae of every source at this point!
At this point in your research, you are browsing for ideas and information to help you fill in the gaps. You're looking to develop a more focused topic. When you focus your topic you'll be able to really engage with the sources that will help you with your sources.
Not quite sure how to get started? The KWHL Tool will help you visualize your thinking, and start organizing the information you find. It will help you sort out
All of which will help you focus your project! (and maybe save a little time & stress, too!)
As you're doing your research, take some brief notes about the sources you've found. Noting interesting ideas and items will help you remember what you've read as you put your ideas together to form a research question. It will also help you to make note of parts of your sources that you want to quote later (and find it easily while you're putting your research project together!)
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