Community Research Guide

Check out some of our tips below for getting started on your research, or contact us if you have a more specific question. If you are a student completing an assignment, you should start with the library’s guide for understanding your assignment and go from there.

Ask a question

Start by writing down what you are interested in researching, and try to phrase it as a question. Don’t stress about making the question perfect to begin with; research can be an iterative process and you can always go back and reword your question later based on new things that you learn as you progress.

Brainstorm some search terms

Write down a bunch of keywords that are related to your question. You can organize these any way that you find most helpful. Some people choose to categorize them into sections of broad search terms (e.g. solar power) and relatively narrow search terms (e.g. photovoltaic cells). You can consult a thesaurus and other online tools or reference books to help you identify related terms. This research tutorial from St. Mary’s University can walk you through one popular method of organizing your search terms, called concept mapping. The University of Illinois has a more brief explanation if you just want a quick overview of the process.

Start searching

If you are searching in UBC Library’s collections, you can run a basic search for UBC resources by sticking with the “general” search tab and typing a few of your search terms that touch on the major topics of your question. If you want to know if UBC owns a specific journal or search only research from UBC, choose a different tab related to the sub-section of the collections. All of these options are available from the “Search Collections” page. The UBC catalogue, research guides, and many other open access resources are available from anywhere. However, remote acess to most databases is restricted by license agreements to current UBC students, staff, and faculty. UBC Library’s Community Member User Guide can help you understand our services for community members.

You don’t have to limit your search to UBC resources; you should also try searching on the internet or in the public library’s collections. You can try different combinations of search terms using various Boolean operators (and, or and not), and evaluate how this impacts your search results.

Keep track

If you are just looking up something out of interest, you don’t necessarily have to keep track of your research process. Your research might be complete after you have found a few articles that you are interested in reading, or when you have found the answer to a specific question you had.  However, if you are trying to find the best and most up-to-date information on a topic, or are aiming for an exhaustive and comprehensive search, then it is a good idea to keep track. Write down where you are searching, what terms you used, and what the results are. This can be organized in a chart, if you find it helpful. Also keep track of the results that you find most helpful, and use those to identify more keywords and expand your search terms. The works cited in an article or book that you find useful can lead you to other resources of interest. You might want to use a citation management tool to help make organizing your selected resources easier. You can find more information about how to organize your research process by consulting the library’s research guide on Literature Reviews. There are also research guides for specific subject areas that you might find helpful.

Evaluate your resources

It is often helpful to consult popular as well as scholarly resources. However, it is important to understand the differences. In all cases, you should read with a critical eye and evaluate your resources, because not everything that you read on the internet (or in a book, for that matter) is true!

What next?

Maybe your research has answered your question or satiated your curiosity, and you will end here. If you are using the research to write something original of your own, make sure that you cite your sources properly and avoid plagiarism.