please help me research effectively?
October 15, 2009 12:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I figure out who the primary sources are for specific areas of research in a cross-disciplinary field?

So I'm newly entered into a graduate level Human Factors program and we're expected to figure out who the big names in a particular research area are by working backwards from sources mentioned in our textbooks - looking at those peer-reviewed journal articles, seeing who they cite and so on. I'm finding this to be an impossibly time consuming process, especially because I'm new to the field.

I thought for the fundamentals course, we'd be pointed to critical primary sources on our big topics (say, preattention) and then be expected to dig down into current research or finer-grained distinctions. Not so much.

I found this question on writing to be fairly helpful with the writing process, but nothing that would help someone unfamiliar with the body of research (let alone the key areas we're supposed to discover the big name/primary sources for) trying to get a handle on it with little guidance from the instructor. Using the many library databases seems to lead me down many rabbit holes.

Any help from the hivemind would be appreciated.
posted by canine epigram to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you asked a librarian at your university for help? He or she should have been trained in this type of research and can suggest several research techniques.
posted by arco at 12:42 PM on October 15, 2009

Google Scholar will tell you how many times a given article has been cited, which should give you a big clue as to which papers matter. Also, if the first link leads to a pay site, be sure to click on the "All X Versions" link, which will sometimes contain a free PDF. Once you find one of those in a given field, the works cited section should give you another lead on key primary sources.
posted by martens at 12:43 PM on October 15, 2009

If you are in a college or university they should have access to a better tool than Google Scholar. Any database will be able to search by author and databases such as Scopus of Web of Science allow you to search by citations (you can see all of the references of each article).

You should definitely ask a librarian at your institution the best way to go about this. In fact, she/he may have already helped some of your classmates on this exact topic.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2009

I've asked the reference librarians (all excellent) to show me how to use the databases and will be taking a session on how-to, but hadn't though to ask that question - we have library research guides on a number of subjects but not on my program. I assumed, apparently mistakenly, that this was out of scope.
posted by canine epigram at 1:17 PM on October 15, 2009

Maybe dropping the jargon term "citation analysis" will charm your librarian and also clue her in immediately as to what you're looking for.
posted by scratch at 1:53 PM on October 15, 2009

Combo of Google Scholar and the Social Science Web Index and a friendly reference librarian did it.

Only a few of the school's db's note times cited, actually, and GS is much more search friendly than the others.
posted by canine epigram at 10:15 AM on November 17, 2009

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