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The Great Conversation: Getting Started with Research

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

From the above article by Nikole Hannah-Jones, we might extract the following keywords (note, this is just from page 3, many other keywords are present in her article!):

  • segregated schools
  • Black and Latino
  • children
  • New York City public-school system
  • public schools
  • urban
  • integration OR integrated schools

These keywords form a great starting place for how we might investigate the topic in more detail. For getting started, use background information such as encyclopedias and dictionaries to help define terms (such as the ones above) and read high-level information about your topic. Background research materials such as encyclopedias and dictionaries can also be good sources for additional information. Use there Reference List (at the end of the article) for suggestions on other resources you might search.

Developing Keywords

When reading magazine and news articles, read with a critical eye knowing you are going to investigate this topic in more detail. Look for places that are unclear or you would like to explore further. As you read, highlight keywords within the article that describe this particular issue or question being raised. 

For example, if we were interested in exploring the topic of segregation in 21st Century public schools in New York, we might use Nikole Hannah-Jones's article "Choosing a Public School for My Daughter in a Segregated City" as a starting place.

Use articles like this one to help generate keywords that you can use to explore further. 

Article citation: Hannah-Jones, Nikole (2016, June 09). Choosing a Public School for My Daughter in a Segregated City. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved:

Developing Keywords

Learn how to develop keywords from a research question and use them to search in library resources.


Constructing a Search String

Learn how to combine keyword together into a search string using three search tips: Boolean search operators, quotation marks, and truncation.

Reading Popular Press Articles

Articles printed in magazines and newspapers are meant for a general audience, so language used is often accessible and does not assume prior knowledge.  Your job as the researcher is to read these articles and ask yourself critical questions about what you are reading. 

  • Where did this information come from? Who wrote it?
  • Why was this article written? For what purpose?
  • What questions does it invite you to consider about the topic?

Asking yourself these critical questions about the article you are reading will help inform what is and potentially is not said and how you might investigate further in order to learn more about this topic. 

Most articles published in newspapers and magazines will mention scientific studies or include additional source information at the end of the article.  Take your understanding to the next step and explore these sources - click on links provided or search in a library database or Google Scholar for the actual scientific studies conducted. 

Background Research Resources

The following are print and online background resources available at Jenks Library. We have many more encyclopedias and dictionary available online and in print in the Reference Room, but these are a few to get you started!