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EnvironMentors Research Guide

Getting Started

Ultimately you want to develop a focused topic. Having a focused topic results in a good paper or presentation.  Some factors to keep in mind when identifying a topic are:

  1. Making sure the requirements of your assignment are fulfilled.
  2. Choosing a topic that is researchable, meaning others have written about it, and there is enough information to write in detail about your topic.
  3. If possible, choose something that is interesting to you.

“Focused” means that your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow.  If your topic is too broad, you will likely be dealing with too many ideas and too much information to effectively write about.  If your topic is too narrow, there may be little information available or what is available may address your topic in a shallow manner. 

Too Broad  Too Narrow  Just Right
How is climate change affecting the planet? How is climate change affecting gasoline consumption in Pittsburgh? Will regulation of fossil fuel consumption temper the negative impacts of climate change?
Why are violent crimes committed?   How often are violent crimes punished by the death penalty? Does the dealth penalty act as a deterrent to violent crime in America?
What were women's roles in World War II?  What percentage of women worked for the U.S government in World War II?   What role did American women play in espionage during World War II?


Similar to an outline, but visually different, a concept map allows you to explore and think about other ideas and concepts related to your general topic. 

Begin by writing down or drawing the most important word, phrase or symbol for the center of the map.  Then, branch out from the center to include related concepts and ideas.  

In the map below, Climate Change is the central concept.  Branching out are the more focused sub-topics of Human Factors, Evidence of, Impacts On, and Regulation. Further branches become more detailed. By creating this map, you could formulate a more focused question such as, Will the regulation of fossil fuel consumption positively affect climate change? 

Types of Articles

  • Published daily or weekly
  • Intended for a broad audience
  • Articles are written by journalists and go through a general editorial process
  • The purpose of articles is to entertain, report news, or summarize information
  • Usually do not contain a works cited list or bibliography, but may name or refer to sources through the article's text
  • Examples include:  The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time, etc.

  • Published biweekly or monthly
  • Written for those working within a specific field 
  • Articles are usually written by industry/business representatives to inform members of specific trades or professions about events, techniques, and/or professional issues
  • Articles go through a general editorial process and may contain a bibliography
  • Examples include:  Advertising Age, Publisher's Weekly, This Old House, etc. 

  • Usually published monthly or quarterly, but may also be published at other intervals
  • Articles are written by researchers and subject experts
  • Articles are peer reviewed, meaning that the methodology, content, and conclusions are reviewed by other scholars/experts in the field before publication.  The goal of peer review is to ensure high academic quality.
  • Scholarly articles are the primary means of communication between researchers to report the most recent research and findings in an academic field 
  • References are usually provided
  • Published by university presses or professional organizations
  • Examples include:  The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Harvard Business Review

Evaluating Resources

The timeliness of information

  • When was the information produced?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is your topic time sensitive? Does it require current, up to date information?

The importance of information for your needs

  • How does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level; not too advanced or too basic?
  • Have you looked at a variety of resources before deciding what you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in a paper?

The source of information

  • Who is the author/sponsor/organization responsible for producing the information?
  • Are the author's credentials and affiliations provided?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is contact information for the author and/or publisher provided?

The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Is the information peer reviewed or refereed? (See: Scholarly Journals under Types of Articles)
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Is the information verifiable in another source?
  • Is the language/tone unbiased?
  • Are there spelling or grammar errors?

The reason the information exists

  • What is the information's purpose? Is it to inform, entertain, sell, or persuade?
  • Are the intentions of the author made clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propoganda?
  • Is the point of view impartial and objective?

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