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School Improvement

A research guide for School Improvement Doctoral Students

Research Tips

When you have a research topic, you need to break your question into its key concepts. For example, if you are researching the case surrounding Jessica Colotl and the possible deportation of other illegal immigrant students, some of the key concepts are:

  • illegal immigration
  • education
  • deportation

Then when looking for articles, you need to think of how someone else would word the same idea. Think of like terms. Use the correct trucation symbol to get multiple endings. In most databases, the "*" is the truncation symbol (you can always check the help screens in the database if "*" doesn't work). So, if you  type immigra*, you will get immigration, immigrant, immigrants...

Some possible search terms for the above research would be:

  • illegal or undocumented
  • immigra*
  • educat* or college* or school*
  • deport*

When you have an advanced search screen, you can put each concept in its own line. Make sure the similar terms are separated by OR. Then you connect the different lines with AND.

A way to understand OR vs AND can be demonstrated by a diagram:

A OR B will get you all information that has either term. So you get the largest amount of hits. In the drawing, this is the entire colored region.

A AND B will get you the part where A and B intersect. In the drawing, this is the green section in the middle.

So, OR broadens your search while AND narrows it. Both are useful for different search functions.

EBSCO, ProQuest, JSTOR- oh my!

What's with "EBSCO", "ProQuest," "JSTOR"?

These are database providers who put content on a platform. A comparison would be to say that EBSCO is like DirectTV -- they are a provider through whom you get content but they do not produce the content themselves.

To take that analogy a step further:

EBSCO = DirectTV

ERIC = Fox

Journal of Attention Disorders = House

"A Critical Review of ADHD Diagnostic Criteria" = the episode where 13 comes back

We manage several database subscriptions through EBSCO including many that you will be using such as ERIC, Academic Search Complete and America: History & Life. Typically the screen just tells you that you are in EBSCO and doesn't tell you which database. This is unfortunate because if you need to retrace your steps later, you might not know how you got there. For this reason I recommend keeping a research journal and making sure you note where you searched and which term(s) you used there.

ProQuest is similar to EBSCO except that it also packages its fulltext journals to get you to use them more often. More usage leads to higher impact factors and then ProQuest can claim its journals are more important and therefore worth more money. While you may be tempted to use the package databases, they are really only a fraction of the online journals that we subscribe to. Instead of limiting yourself to those packages, I recommend starting in a discipline-specific database and relying on Find It @ UWG to get the article now or ILLiad to get it in a few days.

JSTOR is a bit different. It stands for Journal STORage and is a digital repository for many journals we used to get (and sometimes still do) in print. JSTOR approached journal publishers about being part of JSTOR and the publishers had to balance the interest of being in the online package with still getting their subscription revenue. To solve this, they created a "moving wall." This means that more recent material is not in JSTOR to encourage libraries to retain their subscriptions in order to get the most recent content. How much will you miss? For physical sciences and medicine typically the first year is not in JSTOR but most articles more than a year old are in there. In the social sciences that expands to 3 years worth of publications before JSTOR includes them. For the humanities this often grows to a 5 year gap.

JSTOR is great for getting the historical information. As a grad student you cannot afford to rely on it. You would hate to be well into your dissertation to then discover that your research project had been published 2 years ago by someone else.

Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks, etc

When beginning a research project or when needing some background information on a new area of research, you might want to start with one of these general information sources. We often call this "Pre-search" because it comes before your main research. Different disciplines have specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference books to get you started. Often the entries in these will have brief bibliographies or suggestions for further readings. You can use these to begin your research, to narrow your topic and to find good keywords to use when searching for articles:

Key Concepts in Early Childhood Education and Care - Includes information on play, early literacy development, and gender just to name a few.

Springer International Handbooks of Education: International Handbook of School Effectiveness and Improvement - Gives information on school effectiveness movements all over the world, models for school improvement, and how to change schools through leadership.

Springer International Handbooks of Education: International Handbook of Educational Evaluation - Gives information on evaluating educational programs with information on evaluation theory, evaluation methodology, and evaluation utilization.

The Praeger Handbook of Latino Education in the U.S. - Provides educational information regarding the Latino population including issues such as dropout-rates, urban education, and relevant propositions passed.

Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia - Includes information about pioneers in education and other concepts in the education literature.

Key Concepts in Education - Gives information on key concepts in education such as ability, boredom, and equality.