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This research guide is designed to help you start a research paper using the tools available in the GIS Bibliography. When starting a research paper, there are three main tasks you need to complete:
There is an incredibly rich supply of GIS literature available to you. You can find pathways into and through it using the library's search tools. The search tools can help you find a topic and the materials you need for your paper.
What makes a good research paper topic? First, a good topic must be one that addresses the goals of the class. Think about what the course has covered so far. Reread your syllabus, or open the index of your textbook and skim down the columns. Second, choose a topic that reflects your own interest in GIS.
The key to a paper that is manageable to research is to find the right range for your topic: not too broad, not too narrow. If your topic is too general, you will have to read through hundreds of abstracts and papers and you may not be able to find authoritative sources. If the topic is too narrow, you simply won't be able to find enough materials.
To start, list a few subjects that catch your interest. For example, perhaps you are curious about how urban sprawl affects wildlife habitat. If you type in the keyword "environment," your search results will number more than five thousand references â?? obviously too many to read through. You can either click the "Search Within Results" link at the top of the Search Results page, or go back and do another search using a different keyword. "Habitat" might be more focused, and, in fact, adding this keyword returns a much more manageable list of results.
Read down the list of references to get an idea of the kinds of topics they contain. For example, the word "fragmentation" appears in many of the reference titles that relate to habitat under pressure from urban sprawl. If you perform another search, this time adding the keyword "fragmentation," you get a list of about two dozen references, enough to be useful and not too many to skim through. Several of the references relate to habitats of particular species, especially birds.
Note the keywords that seem to return good results. You might even form some questions that your paper might address, such as "How has fragmentation of forests affected the habitats of various birds?" You don't need to have your argument entirely worked out at this point. However, you should identify a fairly clear topic area, question, or set of keywords.
At this point, you need to find authoritative sources that address your topic. Most people find it useful to devise a search strategy for sifting through the materials in an organized fashion to find those that are most relevant. The library's search options tool can help with this task. Try your keywords and see what search results you get, keeping the following factors in mind:
Each reference gives you information about where to find that material. Some references link you directly to the full-length paper or report on the website, and you can read them with a click of the mouse. Others are marked This material is available outside Esri. The material might reside in your university or local library—check their online catalog to find out. If the library doesn't have the material, your professor or department might. Or, you can ask the library to borrow it for you using interlibrary loan. Some of the best GIS literature does not exist in digital format, so do not confine your research to online materials. If the material exists in a professional organization's digital library, you will find a URL listed in the reference.
Next to some references you might see No published paper exists for this abstract. Some authors present their papers at conferences without the paper itself ever being published. If this work is crucial to your research, you will have to track down the author to ask for more information. Many students do not need to see this type of reference because there is plenty of other material to use. To screen out these abstracts, check the box next to "Search only the references to published papers" in the search criteria.
You are now ready to start the actual research. That requires reading, then writing about what you find.