3 Background Reading

As you are exploring your topic and figuring out ways to narrow it down to a searchable question, it is a good idea to do some initial reading. For one thing, you might not know much about your topic yet. For another, such reading will help you learn the terms used by professionals and scholars who have studied your narrower topic. Those terms might become your keywords or search terms later on, so keep them in mind.


Getting Your Words Right

It’s important to understand that the search terms you use will have a direct correlation with the kinds of sources you find. And spending some time early on in your research learning relevant terms will save you time later on.

For instance, if you were going to do research about the risk of bird flu to humans, initial background reading would teach you that professionals and scholars usually use the term avian influenza instead of bird flu when they write about it. (Often, they also use H1N1 or H1N9 to identify the strain.) If you didn’t learn that, you would miss the kinds of sources you will eventually need for your assignment.

Take a look at the Google search results using the terms “bird flu” and human risk vs. “avian influenza” and human risk. Compare the kinds of sources listed.

(Click on the thumbnail image for a larger view. Use your browser’s back-button to return to the page.)


Screenshot of search results from 2 Google searches
Figure 1.3 Comparing Google search terms


If you were to follow the linked results, you would see that the sources on the right come from government agencies and scientific journals, whereas the sources on the left come from news outlets or consumer health websites.



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Doing Research Copyright © 2020 by Celia Brinkerhoff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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