Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Six Tips on Doing Research in Graduate School

Google Scholar and bit of RefWorks

Packing up for new beginnings in Tacoma. One of my last projects at ASU was to do a few talks on research and scholarship for graduate students here at the College of Public Programs.  21st century learners need 21st century tools. Our lives changed with the rapid transition to the information age. So did our scholarship. Students need digital help to find, evaluate, capture, sort, and re-find knowledge they need.

So, kudos to the School of Social Work at CoPP that brought me in (along with a number of other important resources) for a Graduate Student Success Day. What I said, in a nutshell, with some pics: "Smart is no longer what you know. It's how quickly you can find and effectively evaluate what you need to know, when you need to know it." My talk was about tools that help us do that.

Here's a quick animated (Flash) summary explaining how and an accompanying text summary below:

1) Use Google Scholar
2) Get to Google Scholar by entering through the Library page, so that it is Library aware
3) Set your library and bibliographic manager choices in Scholar Preferences
4) Use RefWorks to quickly capture annotated bibliographies, effectively storing part of your brain (the part you'd forget or lose in a heap of paper) in the cloud. 
5) When writing your papers, use RefWorks to create your bibliographic citations on the fly by moving your citations to a temporary folder as you write and producing bibliography to paste at end
6) Serious scholars should take the time to download and learn to use Write N' Cite, the free software that plugs into MS Word, making it RefWorks aware. Write your papers this way for maximum effectiveness.

Despite your faculty never telling you about them. Have a heart...tell your faculty. Scholarship entered the 21st century of digital access while we napping. And that's where Google Scholar rocks. Using the same ranking and referral logic it applies to its search engine, it finds and RANKS scholarly resources on the topic of your search. This is a game changer. Students no longer wander through library online resources, wasting time reading crud. They're directed straight to the most significant resources of that topic, and shown the number of scholarly sources that cited that piece.

AND that's just the start, but sadly it's where those who have discovered Google Scholar often stop. At my seminars on scholarship, I talk about the importance of setting your Scholar Preferences.

Scholar Preferences: click the little wheel at the top right of most browsers when you're in Google Scholar. There's a preference, called Library Links, that allows you to choose and access your own University Library's online resources so that you can click in, authenticate, read the article online. (Many/most scholarly resources still aren't free without subscription. Setting preferences for your own University Library lets you in directly.)

Don't stop there. At the bottom of the page, there's another preference for Bibliography Manager. You need one. Good University Libraries support RefWorks, which I happen to believe is the slickest and most customer friendly scholarly tool out there. If you've wandered to this blog from somewhere outside HE, there are free bibliographic managers, like Zotero, or one-time purchase ones like Endnote (which Scholar also supports) but when a University pays BUNDLES for a RefWorks license, it is a great gift to scholars and you should learn to use it.

So, use Google Scholar preferences. Set your prefs so that you can access materials from your Library with one-click and import into your RefWorks account with one-click. It will save you countless hours in front-end finding and storing. Import and annotate every article you read, when you're reading it.

On to RefWorks. If you don't have an account, go get one. Capture annotations, great quotes, search terms in your annotation and note fields. You'll forget what you read, but RefWorks will remember and retrieve it when you need it. Thus, making you 21st century smart.

I'll stop there as RefWorks is supported by the Library and the librarians offer support and training. But they might not show you how to set up Google Scholar so here you go. Happy trails, do good and do great research!

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