Scholarly paper, research, study, analysis, exploration there are many ways to talk about academic studies which are the product of many months and years of work, and usually, a scholary paper includes the examination of huge sets of data and carefully conducted experiments. We know the purpose of scholarly papers, which is to shed lights and deepen our knowledge in a somehow unbiased way in a particular field from political to medicine, you name there is a paper on it. How do we search for a scholarly paper having a sea of them out there?
A scholar might finish just a few important studies in his or her career, contributing incremental knowledge on a question that may have been studied for decades. The researchers go beyond yes and nos and try to figure out the hows, the background of an issue, the whys and so on. The essence of the scientific method is to come up with a hypothesis, test it, and then make sure it can be repeated — and that no external factors skewed the results.
One thing to keep in mind is that many corporations, commercial research firms, advocacy groups and consulting firms also produce studies and in-depth reports. While these can have news value, we have to keep in mind that these sorts of findings are not always independently fact-checked prior to publication, whereas studies produced by academic scholars normally are.
Now knowing this about research there are several questions to be asked. How do we search for the scholarly papers which we are looking for, where do we search for them, how do we read a scholarly paper, how does research help investigative journalism, the types of research, the hazards and the process, how do we know if a research is actually good and trustworthy, online search techniques, guidelines for critical thinking and so on.
In this post we give a short example taken from journalist resource, to illustrate how we can carry out a more effective search for a scholarly paper.
Let’s say for instance we are looking for papers on the opioid crisis. We often start with Google Scholar, a free service from Google that searches scholarly articles, books, and documents rather than the entire web: https://scholar.google.com/.
But a search for the keyword “opioids” is too of a general term and the results will even be shown from the 1980s. We have to narrow down our search in order to achieve the optimum result. On the left, you see options “anytime” (the default), “since 2013,” “since 2016,” etc. Try “since 2017” and the results are now about 17,000. You can also insert a custom range to search for the years you are actually interested in. And you can include patents or citations if you like (unchecking these will slightly decrease the number of results).
To narrow the search further, make the search more specific for instance: Let’s look for papers on opioids published in 2015 that look at race and exclude fentanyl (Google: “opioids +race -fentanyl”), 2,750 results.
Unless you tell Google to “sort by date,” the search engine will generally weight the papers that have been cited most often so they will pop up first.
If you search for a scholarly paper that studies existing research, include the term “meta-analysis.” Try searching by the author’s name, if you know it, or title of the paper. Look at the endnotes in papers you like for other papers. And look at the papers that cited the paper you like; they’ll probably be useful and practical.
You might locate a lot of studies behind a paywall. What you can do is to click on all versions, search on regular Google for the study by title, and reach out to the journal and the scholar if the email has been mentioned.
In sum, choosing the right keywords, narrowing down your search question and using meta-analysis technique can assist you in landing on the right research paper.
Citations could be a good indicator to identify whether the paper is impactful but some papers cite papers that are flawed simply to debunk them. Some topics will be cited more often than others. And new research, even if it’s high-quality, may not be cited yet. So it is very critical to use your own investigative way of thinking in the whole process as well. Signing up for your favorite journals’ newsletter or release is also a good way to stay informed.
These are just very basic elements to be taken into account to search for a scholarly paper. There are tons of sources where we can look for academic papers and each has its own tactics. Next time we shall talk about some of the most popular sources for scholarly studies.