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Researching "Hot" Topics   Tags: communication, current issues  

How to find "hot" topic overviews, pro/con perspectives, opinions, statistical data, and more
Last Updated: Dec 9, 2014 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

Introduction Print Page

Information Organization

Some General Categories of Information

Books - Book records (author, title, subject) are searchable through library catalogs.  Within the catalog, broad subject terms describe the general content of a book.  Because these subject terms are broad, researchers need to think in broad terms when searching library catalogs.  

Articles - Articles may be scholarly, substantive, popular, or trade.  You can find articles by subject using databases with their own internal indexes (aka, subject categories) or print indexes.  Some databases do not use a formal indexing system, but instead allow researchers to search electronically through the entire text of the full-text articles (JSTOR is an example).  At the article level, indexes usually provide somewhat more specific subject terms than library catalogs; however, terms are still a bit general, so searchers within databases need to think in both, broad and narrower terms. 

Newspapers and Newswires - newspapers are read more and more online.  Many broadcast news stations, newswire services, and newspapers allow access to at least some articles via the Web.  In addition, Doherty Library has several databases that contain only full-text news articles and newswire postings.  If you're looking for news, you probably want to make use of both the free Web and the library databases.  The library also has online access to individual newspaper titles like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Houston Chronicle.  Because news is produced so quickly, indexing can be less accurate and sometimes nonexistent, as with some newswires.  Newswires are very up-to-date; newswire services generally report within hours rather than days or weeks.  Newspapers are generally considered daily; however, with the Web, newspaper Web sites (and broadcast news stations) can offer regular updating and news alerts.

Data and Statistics - data and statistics can be found in a variety of places, including within reference books, in online databases, and via the Web.  It is a good rule of thumb to use statistics from the original agencies that generated them whenever possible.  For instance, use the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization instead of WebMD when documenting statistics that ultimately come from those aforementioned agencies.  Even though WebMD is a reliable site in itself, it may not have been the original producer of the information you are using.  Try to get to the original sources whenever you are documenting data or statistics for a research paper.  Government agencies and nonprofit organizations have been especially good about making original research and statistical data available for free via the Web.  Try broad and narrower searches for your data via Google and try avoiding .com sites (type to avoid .coms).  Ask yourself: What agency or organization might produce statistics on my topic?

Web Sites  - the Web offers many different kinds of Web sites from personal sites to sites for major government agencies.  It will be up to you to evaluate individual Web sites for their dependability in delivering reliable and accurate information. 



The Currency of Information


This is a basic schema for thinking about the currency of information.  When you're planning a research project, ask yourself how up-to-date your information needs to be. You will need to use different types of sources depending on whether or not your information needs to be no more than 2 days old, or if it can be a few months old or older.

As a point of contrast, which types of sources from the above chart do you think provide the most reliable information?

Subject Guide

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Joe Goetz
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University of St. Thomas
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