Please help me find a way to find research
July 29, 2010 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I need help finding research to inform research that I'm doing.

I've started a new job as, basically, a researcher and I'm writing a pretty long white paper for these folks. But I am not a researcher by trade, I'm more of an analyst, and I never did any really heavy research in college. So I've tried to organize my thoughts before I start writing and all of that good stuff (I've had some great advice from PhDs that I am friends with, in this area) but I can't seem to figure out how to find research that supports my research.

Specifically, I'm arguing several points and recommending policy actions. But I don't know how to get from (as an example) "extending broadband access to anchor institutions will make it easier/cheaper for people to connect broadband to their homes" to "and It's true, because these are the sources that back me up". I've tried using Google Scholar, but that hasn't really been helpful, so far.

So, hive mind... can you point me in the right directions? I've rarely been failed by the Green, and I really am asking here as a last result. If it helps, I'm specifically looking at broadband internet and telecom issues in my research. Many thanks in advance!
posted by indiebass to Education (9 answers total)
Response by poster: (note: last result should be "last resort") I am having typing issues, apparently, as well.
posted by indiebass at 10:34 AM on July 29, 2010

The term that you are looking for is "literature review" -- search on AskMe for that term (or "lit review").
posted by k8t at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2010

The first thing I would do is identify other organizations that are focused on the same issue. For every policy area, there are various foundations, advocacy groups and academic institutions doing work on it. Look over their websites for white papers and reports, and then call over to their press departments to ask for help locating additional information. They'll probably put you directly in touch with a researcher there best suited to help.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 10:42 AM on July 29, 2010

Go to the nearest large academic library and get help from the reference librarian!
posted by mareli at 11:56 AM on July 29, 2010

At the risk of being pedantic, I'll point out that you organize your thoughts after going through the literature, because you should let the literature guide the content, rather than searching for examples that back up what you've already decided you want to say. The latter approach could allow you to cherry-pick and present a distorted picture if you're not careful. (How do you know that your point is true before you've even found the studies that would allow you to answer that question?)

I use a mix of Google, Google Scholar, academic databases (e.g. JSTOR, PubMed, IEEExplore), and specific organizations. It helps to have an aggregator that lets you search several databases at once; my school uses a tool called MetaLib. Google Scholar alone will miss a lot of academic papers. However, it does a better job at informal publications like white papers.

Broadband is a minor theme in my research as well and I've come across stuff from the OECD, ITU, World Bank, and other global development organizations. There's also plenty of consumer and business oriented market research type stuff from Gartner, IDC, Neilsen, and other companies like that, but these are always behind a paywall, though maybe your organization has a subscription. Cisco did a big study called the Visual Networking Index which is pretty cool and available for free.

My strategy for finding stuff is kind of the carpet bomb approach. I just do a billion rapid google and scholar searches on all kinds of keywords until I seem to hit the right combination. Words like 'market research' and 'report' are useful to throw in there. Google is good for this as it often uncovers blogs and news media articles which write about a published report; you can then dig up the original report, and use that as a source, and an example to direct further searches.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2010

2nding reference librarian. They LIVE to help people with things like this (and are highly trained.)
posted by juliapangolin at 12:28 PM on July 29, 2010

I'm a librarian who does policy research. I'm afraid it can be harder than scientific research because the authors are often research institutes, advocacy groups and governments. Not to say there isn't academic writing on policy subjects, but it can be important to see what different jurisdictions (governments) have done.

In Canada, there was a recent scandal about a supposedly independent research organization copying from lobbyists in a copyright report. I bring this up because it is important in policy research to know all the stakeholders and see what all of them say - in this case a major critic is lawyer Michael Geist.

Sometimes this work can be done through traditional academic research but often you have to familierize yourself with interested organizations and search their websites - I use advanced Google to search a website, for example
posted by Gor-ella at 1:32 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry if this seems harsh, but I would second PercussivePaul's note that diving into the literature first -- before developing firm ideas -- is often the better way to go.

I think you got a lot of great answers in this thread, but I also wanted to throw Docuticker in there -- it collects a lot of the gray literature floating around. They have a telecomms category, too.
posted by lillygog at 6:30 AM on July 30, 2010

Also, to be very old-fashioned, you could try finding some sort of handbook to research in your area. While the actual info may quickly move out of date, those types of handbooks can be useful in finding out who the major players and organizational entities are in your area. Once you have a grasp on where the info has historically come from, who's regulated your area, which Congressional committees have looked at it, etc. your web searching becomes far more precise.

Here's one for education, for example, which isn't your area but gives an idea. And there are often specialty books aimed at specific types of researchers, like this Evidence-Based Policymaking title.

(None of those things actually help you right at this moment! And I have no idea whether those are good books or not. But just something to think about going forward: don't re-invent the wheel, instead look into what's already out there, and what sort of training those PhDs in your field may have gotten.)
posted by lillygog at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2010

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