Scientific research is a cumulative process with present research building upon a knowledge base of information that resides in the scientific literature. Following are three reasons why you may need to find, evaluate and use this literature.
The Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students video from North Carolina State University provides an excellent introduction to conducting an extensive literature review for a course assignment, capstone course, thesis, or other research.
Researchers usually focus on a specific attribute of the natural world. You should use a scientific mindset to first define a specific hypothesis or research question before looking for information that either substantiates or refutes the hypothesis or answers the research question. In some cases you will need to spend time working through your initial hypothesis to narrow your topic so you are not looking through volumes of information. In some cases you will need to broaden your original hypothesis, e.g. to a broader group of organisms.
As an example the general research topic of "giant squid" could be subdivided into five sub-topics of "location", "habitat", "predators", "anatomy" and "legends'. "Habitat" could then be subdivided into even more specific sub-topics. The goal is to eventually arrive at a workable hypothesis or research question.
Examples of research questions that could be formulated using the above include:
For other general concepts on narrowing or broadening your research topic see Begin Research.
One of the first steps in developing a search strategy is deciding where to initially focus your literature search--primary or secondary literature. For a more detailed introduction see Literature of Science.
To search for primary literature use literature databases that are listed under Articles and Databases on the Library's web page. Every scientific discipline has at least one database to its research literature. You can use a combination of subject searching and citation searching to locate desired information.
To search for books and government documents that are part of the secondary literature use the HSU Library Catalog, the catalogs of Other Libraries and the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. In addition many of the Research Guides developed by HSU librarians list important secondary reference tools in the HSU Library and on the Internet that can be used as starting points for research. Sometimes an older bibliography will comprehensively cover earlier primary literature.
Some of the content of this guide was created in another format by Robert Sathrum, HSU Librarian, retired 06/2013.