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Astronomy - General (UNH - Durham)

Starting Your Research - Picking a Topic

Whether you've written a research paper before or not, the first step toward a successful outcome is to... BREATHE!!!

One of our favorite sayings is, "Information is useless unless you know how to use it!"  

The first step toward being able to use information you'll be gathering, is to be interested in the information.  For many of you, that might not come as easily as it does for others.  So, how can you get interested?

Our suggestion is to select a topic based on your own interests.  Perhaps astronomy is a hobby for you, so most topics are interesting. Or, it's usually hard for you to find science interesting, and that's why your major is Music.  Either way, choosing a topic does not need to be difficult - it's simply a matter of finding a place where astronomy and your regular interests collide.  If you can find that place, then doing the research won't seem tedious - it'll be fun!  And, you'll be surprised at what you find!

To help you select a topic, some quick searches on the internet will help you. For example, a quick Google search of the terms "music" and "stars" gives us several links to research being conducted in the field of stellar seismology (the literal recording of the sounds stars are making).  For a music major, this topic should be interesting, and therefore not so tedious to learn and report about.

Once you've chosen a broad topic, it's time to narrow it down a bit - copious amounts of material exist on nearly any broad topic you may choose, but you only need to produce about 10 pages of your own writing.  So, if your topic is stellar seismology, then what about stellar seismology interests you - development of the technique? Current or future applications?  Impacts of research? Once you've narrowed down your topic to something more manageable for your term paper, the search for sources begins!  

Across the top of this guide, use the tabs to help you through each stage of your research and writing.

Defining Types of Sources

Knowing what type of material you're looking for will be key in your research.  To help you determine which sources are best for your research at the moment, please consider the following definitions.

Primary Source - original material/research.  Typically, this material represents the first formal appearance of results.

             EXAMPLES: research articles in journals or conference proceedings; research reports; original books or treatises

Secondary Source -  once-removed from primary sources.  Typically, this material summarizes and interprets the results presented in primary materials.  Secondary sources may provide examples of results or evidence, but their main role is to bring together and discuss evidence presented in primary sources.

             EXAMPLES: textbooks, magazine articles, review articles in journals, encyclopedias

Tertiary Source - material that collects and distills information from primary and secondary sources.

             EXAMPLES: index/abstract databases, guidebooks, collections of data, chronologies, directories

While the research you'll conduct later in your academic career will require you to rely on primary source material, for the purposes of this assignment, you'll find that the best sources for you to use are technically considered to be secondary sources.  THIS IS OK!!! The best way to get them is to utilize databases, or secondary source books, through the UNH Library Catalog. However, you still can't cite tertiary sources!.

Primary Sources

For the most part, primary and secondary sources in the sciences exist in article form.  Books are great, and we've got lots of those to help you out, but it's a lot less reading to find a handful of great articles.  There are multiple ways of going about the task of finding these sources, but the best way is to use DATABASES.  UNH subscribes to many databases, so it's really just a matter of selecting one or two to work with. For this particular research paper, your best first database to try is called Ebscohost.

You can also use online journals to which UNH subscribes.  It's just a matter of figuring out which journals (out of the thousands we subscribe to) are the right fit for the level of research you're doing.  You'll want to use online journals like Astronomy or Sky & Telescope (though these specific magazines are primarily full of secondary sources).

Other Astronomy-related Databases via UNH

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