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SPCE 619: Finding Research Literature for Online Ethical Debate Research Project

Advice for which databases to use and search techniques to employ for finding information to use in your ethical debate.

About this guide

This guide is meant to accompany the SPCE 619 Online Ethical Debate Research Project.

Knowing the research relevant to the topic your group has chosen is vital to the success of your debate.

While searching the Internet may prove somewhat useful to you, you'll be better served using library databases to find reliable, authoritative research in your field.  As a Ball State student, you are entitled to use the University Libraries, whether in the building or from afar.  This guide should give you some tools you can use for finding the research you need.

Be patient!

For starters, please remember that doing library research can take a long time.  Allow yourself a big chunk of time, so that you can find the resources you need.  And remember that some documents may need to be requested from other libraries (through Interlibrary Loan), which takes several days.

Additionally, bear in mind that research is an iterative process, requiring you to continually search, evaluate and revise.  As you search and read what you've found, you're able to improve your searches using terms and ideas you've found in your results.

Choosing a database

When you're doing academic research, start on the Ball State University Libraries' homepage.  Then look for the Databases link.  Use the options under the "Subjects" drop-down menu to explore the available resources.

There are two principle research databases in the field of applied behavior analysis: ERIC (under the Education category) and PsycINFO (under the Psychology category).  Try both of them, but depending on your topic, you may find that one is more helpful than the other.

While you can use the same general search techniques in both databases, be alert for differences in terms used.

Consider search terms for your topic

The words you use as your search terms have a big effect on the relevance of the results that you get.  So choose carefully!

  • Start with terms used in the topic description.
  • Then think of other ways you can describe that topic such as: 
    • direct synonyms (ex. teenagers, adolescents)
    • related terms (ex. mainstreaming, inclusion)
    • broader or more specific terms (ex. autism, developmental disorders)
  • It may be helpful to consult:
    • a thesaurus,
    • class readings,
    • titles or description of articles you find in a database that look promising.  Subject headings are super-helpful!

Working in that ethical component

In many databases, as you type "ethics OR" into a search box, you will see numerous suggestions including related words such as morals, values.  The longer the list of words with OR in between, the more records you can potentially retrieve.

You don't have to choose what is suggested, but at the very least use ethics or ethical to search for both forms of the word.

Focus on the Subjects field

Unlike Google and OneSearch, library research databases like ERIC and PsycINFO assign subject headings to each record, indicating the focus of the article.

When you're trying to come up with good terms to search on, THIS is the place to look!

Pro tip: Use quotes

When searching in a database, put quotes around phrases of two or more words where it's important to keep the words together.  Then your words will be searched as a unit; it prevents the database from searching for the words individually.

So, when searching on a topic this can be important:

  • "zero tolerance"
  • "experimental function"
  • "applied behavior analysis"

It's also helpful when searching for a title -- of a governmental act, an organization, an article, etc.

  • "education for all handicapped children"
  • "national autism center"
  • "evidence-based practice in autism educational research: can we bridge the research and practice gap"

Too many results?

What if I find a ton using these techniques?

  • Narrow your list by using terms that show up in the Descriptor/Subject heading field, AND changing the drop-down menu to say “Descriptors” or “Subjects” (depending on the database you’re using).   That tells the database to only retrieve articles where my terms show up in the subject field, and (therefore) are the focus of the article.
  • Remove some of the OR terms which are not your favorites.
  • Consider removing an entire set of terms.  For example, remove the "ethics" component.

Too few results?

What if I need to find more articles?

  • Look for more possibilities by mining the list of references at the end of an article that has been helpful (Just take an article title and plug it into OneSearch with quotes around the title to see if we have access to it.)
  • See if anyone has cited an article you like by using Web of Science and searching on your article title (in quotes! Of course).  Then click on “Times Cited” to see records for articles which cited yours.
  • Add some more synonyms or related terms with OR.