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COMM 3410 Intercultural Communication: Research Strategies


  • The first step is to define your research project. Without a well-defined research problem, you are likely to end up with an unfocused and unmanageable project.
  • There are many ways to approach selecting a topic/goal/project, but it is important to realize that your topic may shift as you begin the process of doing research as you realize that it is either too broad (there is too much to cover) or too narrow (not enough is written about it).
  • Questions that can help you define you research goals:
    • "What am I interested in, and what am I trying to say about it?" 
    • "Who cares and why do they care?"  
    • "How is this research relevant?"
    • "How can I learn more about this field of work through my research?" 
  • Writing down your thoughts and talking to someone else about what you are thinking about can be really helpful. Answering these questions can help you define what information you are looking for and where you might find it.
  • For more help and ideas, check out the Libraries' Research Process Guide below.

Find background information about your topic. This is where Wikipedia and Google are helpful. Textbooks and course materials are also a good place to find background information. The more you read, the easier it will be to find the right information. Looking up background information can help you form keywords and gives you an idea of what is being talked about in your topic. 

  • Research is a process. Research is not just about finding things that support your argument, is is also about finding out what is being said about your topic. As you do research you will find more information that might lead to more questions or ideas. Taking the time to explore these will make your paper better.
  • If you are having a hard time starting, start with a basic search about your topic and read some of the articles and find something that interest you. Often you will find inspiration by reading what others have written. 
  • There is not one article that is going to say everything you want it to, but there are going to be some that support what your are trying to say, and it may be a small part of the whole article. You may need to synthesis/cite/ borrow from multiple article to support your position.
    • Example: I want to talk about the role women have in households in rural Nicaragua, but I can only find an article that talks about birthing at home without the aid of medical care. This article explains that one of the reasons for this is mistreatment by male medical staff and that many women lack the voice to report mistreatment. While this does not directly talk about women's role in the household, it does give us an understanding of how women are treated in society. You may need to use the arguments of many articles to build your own.


"Key Words" are search terms that you need to select for searching in a database.

  • Databases don't work the same way that Google works.
    • Unlike Google, most academic databases do not search phrases or whole questions. When using databases you will need to narrow your research concepts down to "search" or "key" words.
    • They require you to select specific terms that will bring up all items that have been indexed in the database in association with the term you enter.
    • This makes it important to know the terms that researchers use in their work, which might be different than you would personally use.
      • So, for example, "cancer" might be referred to as "neoplasm" or "malignant tumor" or by its specific name such as "glioma" or "Craniopharyngioma."
  • There are a lot of ways to come up with keywords.
    • Make a list of synonyms. Use the internet to search the term to find synonyms.
    • Find an article or academic paper or two on the topic you are interested in and see what terms they use.
    • You may need to do a number of searches with different terms to come up with enough resources.
  • Key words are words that describe a concept or idea on their own. For example if we were looking for information about a area of land that has low precipitation and a hot climate the key word work might be desert. Combining them together helps us to link concepts in our searches.  


Research Concept: I am interested in the way water is used and distributed in rural Nicaragua.  

  • Possible Keywords:  water, agriculture, Nicaragua, farming, industry, water rights, drinking water, rural, pollution
  • Search phrase in a database: Nicaragua AND water AND agriculture AND pollution

Summer 2021: Libraries' Services

We're here to support both research and relaxation - check out our Summer Guide to the Libraries: Student Edition.