In the context of information science, abstracts are short, informative summaries that present the key issues of a project's content. Abstracts can be found in annotated bibliographies and article databases.
Access refers to the means of retrieving material, principally in electronic form. This holds for:
- the library catalogue, which allows you to search for and order copyrighted material in journals, article databases, et cetera;
- the Internet, which includes a growing amount of freely accessible scientific material.
New ways to collect, search for, and create research materials are constantly being created. The search engine Google Scholar is one example. In addition to this, you may use so-called institutional repositories, local databases for an institution, Open Access archives, and much more. Electronic delivery has no impact on the content, but has consequences for your access to material. As long as you have an Internet connection, and access rights via your affiliation with an educational institution, you are no longer constrained by time and space. As an additional benefit, material can be accessed electronically by multiple users simultaneously.
Analytic strategy refers to the way in which you choose to analyse or problematise the phenomenon under scrutiny as well as the associated key words and themes. Analytic strategy is about how you create your object of study by constructing and setting up conditions for the way you analyse your object. The specific analytic strategy depends on what you have chosen to analyse as well as your choice of research question and angle of observation. The analytic strategy determines what material you should employ in terms of data and theories/concepts/methods.
The angle of observation is the part of the analytic strategy we have described as “how you create your object of study by constructing and setting up conditions for the way you analyse your object”.
Notes that describe the contents of a resource.
A book or collection of selected academic or fictional texts, usually written by several authors.
Many subject-specific bibliographies function as databases that allow you to search articles and books and to read abstracts. Meta-bibliographies are bibliographies of bibliographies (a record of bibliographies on philosophy or South America for example). ‘Annual reviews’ are publications that present abstracts of a selection of the year’s most important publications within a given field.
A searchable collection of resources registered and organised according to author, editor, title, etc. Today all libraries have an online catalogue. This is also a database.
A chain search starts from a relevant text (e.g., an article or a book). Your supervisor may have provided you with a key text on your topic, or you have chosen the work of a theorist whom you wish to take as your starting point. All works of scholarly literature include a list of references. You can use this list to conduct further searches for other works by the same author, or it may provide you with new search ideas that are relevant to your subject. These new texts will also include a list of references, which can be used in a similar fashion. Thus your literature search forms a chain as you continue to find new texts that are linked to the original text. This search method is available in a number of databases and can be prompted by different headings such as “search for similar texts” or “related texts”. Specific databases, such as Web of Science, allow you to cross-reference an article’s citations and bibliography as well as texts published later on that cite your original text.
- Introduction, containing an observation of a ‘problem in the world' and the formulation of research question
- Theories (concepts)
- Methods and procedure
- Evaluation of the results
- Discussion of the method
- Conclusion (in relation to the research question)
- Perspectives (i.e., relevance to the academic discipline in question and ‘in the world')
- This standard is used most extensively in the natural sciences. The ‘soft sciences' use variations of the standard structure. You can see that the structure presupposes data. Across disciplines, there are three very widespread basic structures for research papers and theses:
- A structure for analysis papers (papers in which analysis (of data, texts, cases etcetera, is key)
- A structure for discussion papers
- A structure for construction papers (Here, the main purpose is to construct theoretically and empirically founded designs and courses for action. In Scribo, ‘The suit meets the kimono' is a sample construction paper).
The introduction and conclusion of research papers have similar structures, regardless of the main objective (i.e., analysis, discussion, evaluation, or construction). Variations lie in the middle part of the structure.
A part of a library's collection of books, journals, and other material that is subject-specific or historically delimited.
The purpose of a combined search is to combine several search words, either to expand or narrow down the amount of relevant material in order to improve search results. This may involve using two words that often appear in conjunction, for example “red pepper”, or combinations using so-called Boolean operators like “and, or, not” (“and” is often implied, but check the specific search options). For example:
“Democracy and India”: Will provide you with material where both words appear.
“Women or gender”: Will provide you with material where either women or gender appears, i.e., texts where only one of the words is present may appear in this search.
“International not global”: Will provide you with material where the words “international” and “global” will not appear simultaneously, i.e. not material where both words occur.
There are many other ways of conducting a combined search. The technical and concrete ways of carrying out this type of search vary depending on each individual database or search-engine. Read the information provided to find out which symbols and methods to use in a particular database.
Every important concept employed in your text, especially in your research question, must be defined in the introduction either immediately after presenting the research question or when the concepts are mentioned for the first time. However, some definitions may require more in depth treatment in your paper.
When defining concepts you can:
- Draw on texts from your own or adjacent fields.
- Combine several existing and recognised definitions.
- Formulate definitions according to the purpose of your research if the literature presents no suitable definitions.
Defining your concepts and using them consistently is important to ensure that the reader knows how to understand the key concepts in your paper.
Ask your supervisor if you are unsure about your concept definitions.
From the perspective of information science, a critical reading of sources means considering questions such as:
- Who has published the material? Who is the sender? What do you know about the author, the publisher, the editor, the institution and the interests they might have?
- What period does the material cover?
- Is the information documented, for example, through references or links?
- Is the material updated? When was the material last updated?
There are also a number of concrete methods for critically assessing particular material, such as:
- Books: use book reviews to collect critical information
- Journals: separate the scientific (containing peer-reviewed articles) from the non-scientific journals (only edited).
- Websites: questioning the authority of the website’s author can be important in assessing the reliability of the material. What cannot be found online and must be found elsewhere?
- Databases and handbooks: reliability is important. Does the source reflect a specific editorial standpoint?
- Encyclopaedias : current interest can be a relevant criterion. Which period does the source cover?
Data, material and phenomena constitute the object of your study and can be referred to in the form of observations, data, statements, texts, sources etc. You can either collect your own data or find data in the texts of other researchers. If you have answered question 4 on finding examples, consider whether you wish to use the examples merely as a starting point or as an illustration of the specific problem you have in mind. You must always consider whether the data is to feature as representative or exemplary (especially good and illustrative examples) data in your paper.
A database is a system where information is registered and stored in a way that enables the retrieval of data. In regards to a literature search, the database could be an online catalogue, a full-text collection of, for example, newspapers, a bibliography of articles, a collection of e-books or a portal.
The majority of the literature you need will be available from databases listed on your library’s website.
All important concepts used in your paper, and especially the concepts you draw upon in your research question, will need to be defined in your introduction.
Drawing upon a given theory in a research paper often means using selected concepts from theories. Typically, you will not need an entire theory when undertaking your piece of research, and in such cases, you should only give an account of the concepts from the theory that you are going to apply.
In a research paper, concepts may serve as:
- A means to set the overall frame of the analysis (e.g., reading text x with the concept y in mind)
- An explanation of the results of an analysis (phenomenon x can be explained in terms of concept y)
- Data (concept x as the object of the analysis).
When defining concepts, you may work out your own definitions by combining definitions from various sources, or you may simply use definitions worked out by others.
Some definitions may require a lengthy definition and discussion, and may even require a separate paragraph or chapter in your paper. Ask your supervisor if there are any doubts about the definition of the concepts you wish to employ.
You delimit your research by stating what falls inside and outside its scope.
- Data may be delimited in terms of time, space, persons/phenomena, et cetera.
- Theories, concepts, and methods may be delimited by stating the otherwise relevant theories, concepts, and methods you have decided not to include, and limiting your study to using only parts of theories.
Always give the rationale behind your delimitations.
Explicit delimitations become especially important if your reader might have a reasonable expectation of more/other material that could have been included in your inquiry.
An alphabetically structured overview of knowledge, with a register of words you can look up (or search if the encyclopaedia is digital). An encyclopaedia often has longer articles written by renowned researchers in the field, and often has suggestions for further reading. They can be printed books, licensed electronic databases, or freely available on the Internet.
The central idea in a text; the centre of gravity.
At the highest levels of education you are expected to write about gaps in knowledge in your educational field. You may find a gap in a need for:
- A categorising of...
- An explanation for...
- Documentation for...
- A qualification of...
- An analysis and interpretation of...
- An evaluation of...
- A design for...
A good research question sets the scene for a good paper by posing a worthwhile question. It shares several salient characteristics:
1. It concerns something still not (or not satisfactorily)
- categorised, characterised, mapped out;
- analysed and interpreted;
- discussed, mediated;
- constructed, designed;
- acted upon.
You should-ideally-search for gaps in the common, assumed knowledge and the 'unfinished business' in your field, and write papers about why the gaps are there, and how to help fill them. Gaps are widespread, so this is not as hard as it may seem.
2. It provides a good focus and problem orientation. The focus should be made clear for the reader from page one. If your research question is comprised of several questions, then make sure to indicate which is central. You can work with several questions, if you can place them all under one theme/focus. Many people ask whether there has to be a problem in a research question (often called a ‘problem formulation'). The answer is yes, but a problem may be defined as anything in a particular subject field that has not been completely exhausted: in other words, where there is still room for new analyses, for new findings, or for putting forward a provocative argument.
3. A good research question is operational and answerable, meaning that it is possible to answer the question by utilizing suitable methods, theories, and data within the given time allotment. It is fine if, at the conclusion of your research, you realise that the presuppositions underlying your research question now appear somewhat weaker or can now be disconfirmed. It is just important that the initial question appear to be a reasonable one to put forward at the time. Partial and negative answers may also be quite interesting - ask your supervisor when in doubt.
4. Research questions may include different levels of questions. These different levels correspond to the different text types in research papers.
- ‘What' questions, which set the scene for accounts and descriptions;
- ‘Why' questions, which set the scene for interpretations and analysis;
- ‘How' questions, which set the scene for discussion, evaluation, and designs;
As a general rule, your research should include ‘why' and ‘how' questions, or be formulated so the reader may expect analysis, discussion, explanation, argumentation, and founded evaluations. Only ask a ‘what' question if this may lead to descriptions, categorisations, et cetera, of material not yet treated.
You often see a question of ‘how" (i.e., evaluation, design, course of action) at the end of a set of questions. The ‘how' question is frequently seen to be the best reflection of the purpose of the research. For this reason, you may want to forefront the ‘how' question, and make your other questions subsidiary to it. Furthermore, you may want to distinguish between major and minor questions, either visually (as in a hierarchical list) or by explaining their relative significance.
5. A good research question calls for the use of theories, concepts, and methods.
You should be able to rewrite a good research proposition into a question: What happens when theories/concepts/methods XXX are brought into play with YYY (data, problem, object of analysis, which may indeed also be a theory, a concept, or a method)? It should NOT simply be: What do X sources say about Y? To put it differently, a good research question calls for at least some knowledge transformation and use. Do not just tell what you know. Use, analyse, discuss, qualify, assess, evaluate, design.
Research questions ask about:
- Definitions, characteristics
- Parts, wholes, patterns
- History and changes: past/future
- Reasons and rationales (background, preconditions, contributions, interpretations)
- Effects (consequences, perspectives)
- Reactions, opinions, attitudes
- Contradictions and controversies- and how to synthesise them
- Arguments, pros and cons
- Designs and courses for action.
A hypothesis is a prediction of possible answer(s) to your research question (whereas a thesis is a preliminary claim). Hypotheses are primarily used in ‘harder' sciences.
The introduction of a research paper should cover the:
- Topic, or area of research;
- Research question;
- Hypothesis (if relevant);
- Central concepts;
- Research procedure.
You may vary the order of elements. Motivate your choices, especially of data, concepts, theories and methods.
An individual unit of information (e.g., a book, journal, newspaper, sheet music, DVD, datum, etc.). Material is everything that is available to you, whereas a source is the material you actually use in your research paper. See also resource.
Methods within a given academic field are specific tools for systematically undertaking a task, such as collecting, categorising, analysing, interpreting, or evaluating data, and for intervention and action. You often need to employ a number of methods for any one piece of research (for selecting, categorising, calculating, measuring, analysing, evaluating, testing, etc.). Some methods are named and described; some you may have to construct yourself to suit your specific material. Methods are sometimes derived from theories and concept (i.e., the word ‘psychoanalysis' covers both a theory of personality and development, and a corresponding treatment method that is derived directly from the theory and its concepts). Always consider and explain to your reader why you have chosen to draw upon one or more method. You should be able to answer the question: "Why do I use these methods in my research paper?" Always explain every step of your methodology to your reader. The scientific quality of a research paper rests, in large part, on the transparency of method and procedure.
A publication; a book that is about a delimited subject field or topic.
A portal is a resource with options to search for subject, author, et cetera, and with browsing, meaning that you can ‘click' your way through the portal's sub-division of material (e.g., becoming more and more specific). A portal is delimited to a subject or a topic. Portals contain and refer to a structured selection of resources. A portal can be a useful filter for selection and quality, and can help you find good and otherwise hidden resources. Your library will often link to the most relevant portals, and you can ask the librarian.
Pre-understandings or preconceived notions means having one or more theories on your object of research before researching. As a researcher, you always have pre-understandings, and these have consequences for the way you identify your object of research, and the tools you use when researching concrete phenomena. Your own pre-understandings, or those drawn from representative work or important theorists in your field, may inform your research question.
In the Scribo examples, concepts such as ‘pattern' and ‘break' construe the conceptual meaning in the paper ‘Breakers of social patterns', as do the concepts of ‘restructuring' and ‘change' in the ‘Ministry of Commerce' paper. They may thereby qualify or question the pre-understandings of earlier/other studies or everyday understandings of these concepts, and what the concepts chosen may mean for a given survey. You may research how a given topic is pre-understood and construed. In principle, any- and everything may be questioned, including your own or your field's pre-understandings. Sometimes a piece of research changes the researcher's pre-understandings.
In your research procedure, you describe which steps you are going to go through in the course of your paper in order to answer your research question:
- First, I am going to account for the most important aspects of the theory.
- I select data from X number of categories from theory A.
- I then outline my model of analysis, using the conceptual framework from theories B, C, and D, after which I describe my method of analysis.
- I analyse data.
- I then move on to discuss my method of analysis and the results I achieved.
- Finally, I evaluate the possible uses of the method based on the results and experiences from my research.
A publication is a document made publically available. The publication can be printed or electronic. So-called grey publications can be working papers, preprints, or conference proceedings. They are sometimes made available though the library online catalogue, or you can find them on the Internet or at the author's institution/website.
Your choice of topic and research question can be theoretically and/or professionally/practically motivated (e.g., if your research can somehow be of use to practitioners within the field). Do not state the motivation for your research question simply by writing that you find it interesting. It has to be clear why this is so. You should also be able to explain the wider significance of your research question (and the answer to your research question) beyond the personal realm. A paper may have more than one purpose. It is certainly possible to write a paper without stating a purpose, but it always builds (and demonstrates) direction and relevance to state one or more purposes of any piece of research.
These are methods that:
- are used for collecting and analysing a limited set of cases (e.g., three selected web pages);
- investigate the qualities of the objects of inquiry;
- may be chosen to capture the truly qualitative, the singular (and therefore of special interest);
- are not suited for drawing general conclusions;
You may select your qualitative data because they are:
- atypical (i.e., the selected data shows something that goes against the general trends or views within an area);
- typical, significant (e.g., a novel can be a typical example of how the concept of myth is used in modern German literature);
- weighty (e.g., the three most visited Muslim web pages in Denmark);
- accessible (e.g., because they had already been collected by somebody else, or you chose to observe the children in a particular kindergarten because you know somebody who works there).
Quantitative data are data in numbers, and can be expressed in numerals.
These types of data/methods consist of a broad selection of cases (e.g., a questionnaire answered by 1,000 teachers) and can be used for making claims beyond the sample (i.e., provide answers of general validity).
A reference list provides bibliographic references for a text. This list in your research paper can include materials cited/quoted, and material that is used more indirectly in the paper. There are different style guidelines with regard to how you should write a reference (e.g., whether the title should be in italics). Check your curriculum for the preferred guidelines.
It is common to structure a reference list alphabetically, but it may also be grouped according to the role the material has in your research paper (primary and secondary literature), or according to types of materials (scientific texts or newspapers).
A reference contains bibliographic information. It can be name, title, publication year, publisher, edition and place of print, or it can be a .url for an Internet page.
The research question represents what you want to research or inquire into (sometimes formulated as the thesis/point you want to validate, analyse, discuss, etc.).
Resource is an information science term that covers all kinds of information and literature, such as books, article databases, portals, homepages, journals, information specialists, et cetera.
True scientific problems lie wherever the subject field or discipline still has more work to do rather than in already known facts and dogma. See also research question.
Search engines are robots that collect homepages and websites from the whole world. The biggest search engine is Google. Google Scholar is a search engine for scientific material. Search engines have different strengths and qualities, and even though they may be very good, they will never be able to find and index everything on the internet. On many library homepages you can find quality assessments of search engines. Use the advanced search to narrow down results (e.g., for when a page was last updated, or if you want to search only titles or full text). You can also limit your search to a specific domain (e.g., .edu for education, .dk for Denmark, etc.).
A deliberate plan for how you want to do your search for information and literature. It can be in relation to a specific search, and you can choose between different search methods (e.g., a systematic or chain search). You should always have a search strategy for your research paper. This includes searching for information during the whole process, and using relevant search methods in the right phases. For example, do not conduct a thorough documentation search before you are fairly settled on your research question and have made important decisions regarding your theory and methods. For your final discussion of your topic, you may want to do more open searches on the Internet. Your plan for when and how to search for more material is your search strategy.
Material you use in a research paper.
Guide to structuring
A research paper structure should reflect the contents of your filled-out pentagon model of the basic elements of your work. You need to have chapters/paragraphs discussing what you are researching (research question (first corner of the pentagon), your aims and purposes (second corner of the pentagon), the data, the phenomenon(na) that you research (third corner), the concepts, theories and methods you use for your data collection and analysis/discussion (fourth corner), and you need a short section on your procedure (fifth corner) in your introduction.
- What is your research question, and how may your structure show how you get from your question to your answer? You can start outlining once you have a (first!) research question which defines your central question and your central concepts, theories and methods for your inquiry.
- What are your main purpose and aim in your work? Do you aim to analyse and explain/interpret, to discuss, to evaluate, to design - or is it something else, i.e. to depict, describe, compare and contrast, characterise, report or? The structure of your paper should reflect your most overriding aim(s) with your paper. That which you (and your supervisor, your group) deem the most overriding aim(s) should be allocated separate chapters and sufficient space.
- + 4. Which data, material, phenomena etc. do you research, and with which concepts, theories and methods? Each may deserve separate chapters, and especially theories often call for several separate chapters or at least paragraphs. Sources and literature (other than theories and methods) may need a separate short section in or after the introduction.
Use the classical standard structure as a point of departure. Research paper structures are usually variations over this basic structure:
Basic Structure of the Research Paper
- Observation of a "problem in the world";
- Research question;
- Method, procedure to solve the problem;
- Theories (concepts);
- Evaluation of the results;
- Discussion of the methods;
- Conclusion (in relation to the research question);
- Perspectives (relevance in the discipline and "in the world");
Finally: Check out the scientific articles and good research papers written in your course in the previous semesters: What looks like feasible and recyclable structures? Are there recurring structures? Can you use the writings of peers for inspiration, if just for single chapters?
A theory is a set of ideas (or assumptions) within an academic field that can describe, explain, and predict phenomena, and which constitutes a frame of understanding within a field. In a research paper, theories may serve as
- the foundation of the method (e.g., the type of data collection or analysis that you are going to undertake may be based on some theoretical assumptions);
- an explanation of the results of an analysis (i.e., phenomenon X can be explained in terms of theory Y);
- a means to set the overall frame of the analysis (e.g., reading text X from a certain theoretical perspective);
- data (theory X as the object of the analysis).
Always consider and explain to your reader why you have chosen to draw upon a theory. You should answer the question: Which function does this theory serve in my research paper?
Sometimes concepts taken from theories are used for the same purposes. You may use one or several concepts, explain the concepts, and use them as tools for analysis, discussion, and evaluation.
A point or claim stated on page one of a paper, which you document, test, validate, discuss, challenge, et cetera. Stating a thesis is more common than posing a research question in some disciplines, such as film, literature, and philosophy.