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UGS 302: Difficult Dialogs: Participatory Democracy / Wilson

Search Strategy

Contested public issues - how to do research about them

Dr. Wilson asked me to demo abortion as a topic - that is very broad and broad topics are really difficult to search in scholarly literature because researchers focus on narrower aspects of controversies to gather and analyze data. I will show you on this page how I narrow things.

Step 1: You may have a topic in your head that is quite broad, like Dr. Wilson's topic. If it were me, I would read newspapers and magazines, especially the opinions and editorials pages and search my topic to see what people are arguing about. You could also search twitter since a lot of public debate goes on there. You can also try Opposing Viewpoints - you likely used it in high school, so it's familiar. You are not using any of these sources for your paper - you are just narrowing your topic enough to search for scholarly sources with better keywords.

Step 2: Choose an aspect of the topic that you want to investigate, something you learned about your broad topic. Here is where I normally write down many keywords (see below) so I have a plan to test my topic in the databases. Your first search is never your best search.

Step 3: Who cares about your topic? As you will see when we discuss scholarly articles, researchers come from very specific fields and perspectives. You may have legal experts, religious scholars and medical experts all arguing over the same topic, but using different evidence and expertise to support their claims.

Main topic What are people arguing about? Controversies? Who cares about this topic?
abortion income government, social services, public health
abortion access TRAP (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) law, legal, courts
late term abortions women's health and safety doctors, medical

So, to explain this grid: I could use abortion as my main topic. There are other keywords I could try in order to focus on a specific controversy - like access. I could then narrow the topic and just focus on something I want to measure about the topic - so, how does income affect abortion rates? How do TRAP laws affect access? How do health outcomes affect decisions about late term abortions? Then, I could narrow it further to a particular perspective - this is handy if I'm seeing a lot of medical professionals talking about regulations on abortion providers, but I want to instead focus on the legal aspects being litigated in court. Here is a sample:

abortion and income and texas in academic search complete

Learn more about your topic

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