WR 121 Research Log

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Assignment #1B: Exploring a Topic Area

In this section you will use an outside reference source to explore one of the topic areas you identified in Assignment #1A.

At this point, you are not looking for sources to include in your final paper. Instead, you want to find out what other people are saying about your topic. What issues and concerns are raised when people write about your topic area? You can complete this entire assignment at the computer, using Wikipedia.

Why explore the topic? There are some important reasons it will make your research and writing process easier:

  1. It's easy to do. You can use the information provided by electronic information retrieval tools to identify key themes, common arguments, and important terms on your topic before you have to decide which articles or books you're going to read.
  2. You're less likely to miss something. Your paper is going to be more convincing if you know what the arguments for and against your thesis are. You can better deal with arguments against your thesis if you explore them ahead of time.
  3. When your working thesis comes out of an exploration of the sources, you can avoid the "needle in the haystack" problem of having to find sources that say what you want them to after the fact.

Step 1: Identify an article

  1. Go to Wikipedia.
  2. Do a keyword search on your topic.
    wikipedia search box image
  3. Scan through the article and look at the main heading. If the article is not relevant to your topic, try changing your keywords and doing a new search. You can also look at the related articles listed under the See Also heading to see if you can find a more relevant article.
  4. Example: Ryan searched for 'gambling'. By scanning the Gambling article, he figured out that it was about the legal aspects of gambling, types of gambling, etc. But what he really wanted was an article about addiction to gambling. So, he did a new keyword search for 'gambling addiction' and was taken to a Compulsive Gambling article.
  5. Once you have found a relevant article, read through it to familiarize yourself with the topic's main ideas, terminology, related concepts, etc.
    • Notice that articles contain links to other related Wikipedia articles (under the See Also heading) and to related websites (under the External Links heading).
    • Some articles also have references and/or bibliographies. It might be useful to look at the sources listed in these bibliographies to find more in-depth information about your topic.
  6. Write down the title and URL of the article you're using in your research log.

    NOTE: if there is little to no discussion for your main article, look at the discussion pages for related articles until you find one that looks promising.

  7. Look at a few of the related articles and websites. Take notes on new concepts, terms and connections that you find.
  8. Answer the following questions in your Research Log. You should have answers to questions about the page you found, the discussion page attached to it, and the history of the page you found.

Step 2: Examine the Discussion pages

There are often more than two sides to the issues presented in Wikipedia articles. Because of this, there are times when one or more people working on a Wikipedia page disagree. When that happens, they can take their disagreement to another spot, the Discussion page linked to every Wikipedia article.

wikipedia discussion tab

These discussion pages can be an excellent way to find out about the main controversies related to your topic and identify controversial claims in the main article that you want to investigate further before making up your own mind.

Answer the following in your Research Log:

  1. In your own words, summarize one of the main controversies about your topic.

    Example: (from the Biodiesel article)
    There seems to be a lot of controversy about whether Biodiesel is less expensive than other fuels. Some of the factors discussed include: whether or not the market price is accurate, economies of scale, fluctuations in the agriculture markets & transportation costs.

  2. In your own words, write down at least one claim in the article that you need to investigate further, based on the discussion page.

    Example: (from the Podcasting article)
    What is the difference between streaming and podcasting?

Step 3: Explore the history pages

Wikipedia lets you see how the content on a page develops over time by looking at its History page.

wikipedia history tab

Go to the history page for your main article and answer the following in your research log:

  1. When was your page first added to Wikipedia?
  2. Look at the last month of revisions. How often was your page revised?
    1. Daily
    2. Weekly
    3. A few times a month
    4. Not at all
  3. If someone put bad or misleading information on your page, how long do you think it would take before someone else edited the page with better information?
    1. It would be fixed the same day
    2. It would probably take a couple of days
    3. Within the week
    4. Within the month
    5. Who knows, hardly anyone looks at this page

Step 4: Analyze your article

Answer the following in your research log:

  1. What have you learned about your topic during your exploration that you didn't already know? (If you didn't learn anything from your first article, follow links from that article until you find something useful.)
  2. List at least one thing that you need to explore further.
  3. Give examples of at least three new searches you could do, using information gathered during the process of exploring your topic.

    Example (from the Antidepressants article)

    • Keyword search on: tricyclics
    • Keyword search on: "American Psychiatric Association"
    • Author search on: Thase, Michael
    • Title search on: JAMA, Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine

After completing this assignment, add the following to your research log:

  1. Title and url of your Wikipedia article
  2. Answers to two questions about the Discussion pages
  3. Answers to three questions about the History pages
  4. Answers to three analytical questions about your article

Continue to Assignment #1C

Return to Assignment #1A