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HHP 4899 Contemporary Issues in Health and Physical Activity

Narrowing or Broadening your Topic

Some options to consider when narrowing the scope of your paper:

  • Theoretical approach:  Limit your topic to a particular approach to the issue.  For example, for human trafficking you may want to investigate in relationship to conflict theory (a sociological theory about the ways that power, status, and access to resources relate to inequality in social groups)
  • Aspect or sub-area:  Consider only one piece of the subject.  For example, if your topic is human trafficking, specifically investigate forced labor
  • Time:  Limit the time span you examine.  For example, 
  • Population group:  Limit by age, sex, race, occupation, species or ethnic group.  For example, forced labor and children
  • Geographical location:  A geographic analysis can provide a useful means to examine an issue.   For example, forced labor in India

Some options to consider when broadening the scope of your paper:

  • Your topic is too specific.  Generalize what you are looking for. For example, instead of looking at one specific state, look at a whole region or the country.
  • Your topic is too new for anything substantive to have been written.  If you're researching a recently breaking news event, you are likely to only find information about it in the news media. You may want to change your topic, or you could use the news item as background information to discuss an existing theoretical approach or issue.
  • You have not checked enough databases for information.  Ask a Librarian for help in determining databases or resources that may cover your topic.
  • You are using less common words or too much jargon to describe your topic.  Use a thesaurus to find other terms to represent your topic. When reading background information, note how your topic is expressed in these materials. When you find citations in an article database, see how the topic is expressed by experts in the field.

Searching tips

Suggestions for using keywords and building your searches:

  • I recommend starting with a very basic search and slowly adding additional concepts to build out to what you want. 
  • Spend some time thinking about which aspects of your thesis are the most important and which ones would be helpful but aren’t deal-breakers – for example if I want information on reducing ER visits due to poorly managed diabetes – I don’t need to include the ER as a search term for all of my searches – but could instead focus up-stream on the things that mean diabetes is well managed.
  • Think about synonyms – will this database use pertussis or whooping cough  - then you can search for both using OR between the two concepts
  • Think about where your search terms might show up – a good research article will include most keywords in their title – so you could limit important keywords to the title field so it is easier to skim through the articles and tell which ones will be more helpful (but if limiting to title field doesn’t give enough results, go back to “all fields” as you refine your search terms)

Recognizing an original research article:

When searching there isn’t a way in most databases to limit your results just to original research – but using the scholarly articles limiter button helps.  Then as you skim the titles, you can also be watching to see if the titles are specific and have power words that indicate it is a research article – something general like “clinical manifestations of depression” is probably a review article, but “effects of exercise on depression in college athletes” probably is original research.

Then when you see a likely article, these are the things to watch for as you skim the article itself:

  1. It has the 5 sections of a scientific article – abstract, introduction or background, methods, results, discussion or conclusion – sometimes these sections aren’t named, but you should be able to find all of these topics covered
  2. Experimental science will usually have a sample size – we looked at 6 people, or we ran this experiment 4 times – often you will see the sample size listed in the abstract or introduction like this (N=465) – the N stands for Number of subjects.
  3. There will almost always be tables or charts or graphs that show the results
  4. Is there a hypothesis or thesis at the end of the introduction – this shows what the researchers are hoping to discover with their experiment.

Some ways to decide if you have "enough" sources:

The information we find is usually used in one of four ways in a paper.  Think about if you have sources to give evidence for all four areas:

One way to think about these ways is with the acronym: BEAM

  • Background: Any source used in a paper to provide context or background; cited information is regarded as non-controversial
  • Exhibit: Documents, data, field/lab observations, visual images, or other artifacts/objects that the writer analyzes; particulars from the "exhibit" are evidence within your argument
  • Argument: The conversation of critical views and relevant scholarship that you are joining
    • Usually argument sources are other scholarly articles or papers
    • In nursing and sciences, often constitutes the “review of the literature”
  • Method (or Theory): References to the theories or methods the writer is employing (sometimes implicit but often explicit)

Additional ways to think about if you have "enough:"

  • Check your assignment and  rubric. Were you given a certain number or type of articles?  Have you answered all the points of the paper (and do you have support from the literature for all points)
  • Searching is an iterative process, as you write your paper, you may discover that you don’t have any evidence for a specific claim you want to make.  You can always go back and search for that particular point.
  • As you search with different keywords and terms, you my discover that the same articles keep coming back – that can be a sign that you have found the core articles on the topic.

Recognizing Peer-Reviewed Journals

1. Some things to consider when determining if an article is peer reviewed (source):

  1. Make sure you have a journal article; also not everything in a peer-reviewed journal is peer reviewed, journals often other content such as editorials or book reviews which are not required to go through peer-review
  2. The following can usually be found in a peer-reviewed article
    • An extensive reference list with in-text citations
    • Specific style/organization: abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusion
    • Data given in charts, tables or graphs
    • Formal language - particularly an long article title that covers all components discussed in the article
    • Includes dates for submission and acceptance of the article 

2. Some databases, like Academic Search Premier, allow you to click a check-box to say you only want peer reviewed journals.  Although sometimes databases only indicate that a resource is scholarly without covering the level of peer review the articles undergo.

3. Search the Journal's website for Author Guidelines:

Author Guidelines highlighted

4. Still not sure if your journal is peer reviewed (refereed)?  Ask a Librarian: cfry@spu.edu