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What Grad Students Need to Know about the Livingston Lord Library: Determining Your Research Focus

How Best to Focus your Research

As a graduate student, you will be in charge of conducting your own research. We aren't going to discuss every step of the research process here, but we will give you some tips on the best strategies for navigating your way. We are here to help you through!

This diagram is a visual representation of the process researchers go through to complete a project or study from inception to conclusion. The process is cyclical, and you may find yourself revisiting steps in the process multiple times.

Diagram of the circular and iterative research life cycle. Open the hotspots to learn more about each step.

  1. Search existing literature to gather ideas and information and to stay current with related research.
  2. Develop a system for cataloging and organizing your references. Automate where you can. Try using RefWorks!!
  3. Determine how you will plan, organize, and store your data.
  4. Ensure you are protecting your work and honoring the copyright of others.
  5. Find appropriate places to publish, monitor who is citing your publications, and identify new collaborators.
  1. This section will explore two techniques for narrowing your research interests. No matter where you are, you can browse online resources, including dissertations and theses. You can also create alerts that will let you know when new work is published in your areas of interest. 
  2. One good way to narrow your research interests is to look at past MSUM theses and dissertations. These documents typically have subject terms that will help you find similar research, and they have bibliographies that are full of potentially relevant articles and books. You can locate MSUM's collection by searching Dragon OneSearch and limiting the material type to Dissertations. You can also search other databases by clicking here. Another place to search is MSUM's RED: Institutional Repository.
  3. Be proactive and make useful information come directly to you! You've done a lot of work fine-tuning your searches and locating experts in your field, and through this process you should be registering inside databases so you can save your search histories. This allows you to set up email alerts and notifications when new articles are published.  You can also use a journal table of contents aggregator to help you always be the first to know when new articles come out.

Once you’ve decided on an area of focus, you can start gathering the information you need. Here are our top strategies.

As described on the Library Locations tab, Dragon OneSearch is a great starting place for searching across MSUM Library’s print and electronic collections. It contains journal and magazine articles, dissertations and theses, government documents, special reports, news articles, media items, and much more. This lets you cast a wide net across many disciplines and subject areas.

Using the drop down menu, the MSUM Library Catalog option is great for limiting your search to things like books, media items, and specialized collections. 

For graduate level research, we recommend using the Advanced Search interface in OneSearch, which gives you more control over your search strategy. To find this option, click the Advanced Search link from the One Search menu.

Once you have navigated to the Advance Search interface, notice the radio buttons at the top - we’ve already explained most of these options, but in particular, the EBSCO option searches databases provided by the EBSCO Information Services that are otherwise left out of One Search results.

Once you’ve limited the body of content you want to search, there are several tools to help you refine and limit your search. You can limit your search to fields like title, author, or subject. You can also limit Material Type, Language, and Publication Date. These options let you hone your search to point to more specific topic areas.

Upon receiving your search results, you can further refine using the Filter my results menu. For example, you can limit your results to specific publication dates, peer-reviewed journals, sources with full text online, and so on.

While OneSearch is a great starting point, we subscribe to hundreds of other databases that may be more appropriate for finding the stuff you need. You are training to be an expert in the literature of your field, and using a more specialized database will save you time and help you feel confident that you haven’t missed anything relevant in your search.