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Getting started

When you begin your research, it's okay if you don't know a lot about your topic yet. If you already knew everything about world religions, you wouldn't be taking this class!

Before you can begin looking for in-depth scholarly articles, you can do some background "pre-search" to set yourself up for success. The two strategies listed below do not have to be done in any order. In fact, you will probably find yourself flipping back and forth between them.

Brainstorming keywords

Keywords are the words you type in to a search engine or database to look for information. Whatever search tool you are using will try to match your words with the words in the title, author, abstract, or sometimes the full text of information resources like articles, books, and websites. You should never search for your entire research question or thesis statement. Instead, select the most important terms that describe the information you need.

In the initial steps of your research, you will likely search for the name of a religion. As you learn more, you can find new keywords to make your search more specific and help you find answers to the specific questions in your assignment. Be on the lookout for specific examples of the concepts you are researching (ideologies; rituals; sacred times, spaces, and artifacts; values; norms; sanctions; and language). These will help you find the most relevant scholarly articles.

Synonyms - Thinking about more than one way to talk about your topic is useful, in case your original keyword does not match with how it is described in an information resource. Try to find many possible ways a topic could be referred to, so you are armed with multiple search strategies.

  • For example, Islam refers to a religion, and Muslim refers to the people that practice that religion, so both words would be applicable to your topic and worth searching for!
  • For example, Judaism and Jewish are different words that refer to the same religion.

You can also think of synonyms for the different parts of this research project.

  • For example, words that mean about the same thing as ritual are custom, tradition, ceremony, rite, and practice.

Topic Exploration

At the beginning of your research, you will want to explore resources that help you fully understand your broad topic and identify ways to narrow it down to be more manageable. Carefully select websites and library resources that are reliable and provide helpful overviews of your topic, then follow links and perform new searches for terms that you have been introduced to or ideas that you hadn't thought of before.

Information resources that you use during this initial exploratory step will not necessarily get cited in your paper or project. Since these first resources are for you, not for your paper, you are welcome to use Google, Wikipedia, or other non-academic sources as long as you determine they are trustworthy.

Below are some research starter databases from the library that can be useful for this project. Some of these are like general encyclopedias (Britannica and Credo) while others offer more advanced information (the "In Context" databases).