Readings on Researching

This unit will help you to perform online research, at an academic and professional level. My first real job, out of school, was working as a research analyst. I will try to offer practical tips that should help you succeed here — in the course’s remaining assignments — and in your future coursework, research, and career. I want to help you succeed.

In general, the culminating assignment of the course will be the Issue Exploration Essay. It is a research paper; it is not an opinion paper. You are NOT arguing a point that you want your readers to agree with you about. Instead, you’ll be researching experts’ points of view and sharing those with your readers, on a topic related to your future career or fields of endeavor.

Searching “Academic Journals” Online

First, it’s time to learn another interface. Please visit the SEU library’s portal to online databases:

From there, you can search online databases of articles from many types of publications. Most importantly for this assignment, these databases allow full-text access to “peer-reviewed” articles published in “academic journals.”

Those terms are not vague adjectives. They are specific types of articles published in specific types of publications. You’ll NEED TO UNDERSTAND what “peer review” and an “academic journal” are. Please click on both of those links and review those pages carefully! If that information remains unclear to you, please continue researching those concepts elsewhere. (Academic journals are sometimes referred to as “scholarly journals,” but I try to use consistent terms here, to avoid confusion.)

“Academic journals” may have a few introductory articles in each issue, written by editorial staff, that are not research studies. However, they are mostly comprised of peer-reviewed research studies and often take years of study and research to prepare and write — by teams of scientists, scholars, and researchers — to produce a single article. As a consequence, these journals are often quite expensive, with subscriptions costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.

So, these online database companies gather those articles and offer access at a less expensive rate. That’s what we’ll be searching, for this upcoming essay.

Popular Sources

For general background information, as when you describe the issue in your introduction, you may use popular sources — such as newspapers of record (New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal) or the AP wire service — along with official sources, like testimony from congressional hearings or statistics published by the federal government (e.g., or search Google for “” alongside your search terms). However, popular sources do not fill the research source requirements (of seven or more academic journals) on their own.

Please note: Just because an article was found using the online databases does NOT mean it is “peer-reviewed research published in an academic journal,” as the online databases often include popular sources, too.

Helpful “Academic Journal” Databases

The most likely sources — for the types of “peer-reviewed research published in academic journals” that we’re searching for — may be Academic Search Complete, EBSCO, or SIRS Issue Researcher. These databases are general, multi-disciplinary databases that might offer something for all your topics. If you can’t find anything in these databases, browse the listing for a database that might be focused on the topics you are researching.

SEU offers access to these databases here:



For the Issue Exploration Essay (IEE), we’re trying to establish what research has proven to be objectively true (or not), as far as experts can know, at this point in time. That’s what we’re after — not mere opinions. So, “peer-reviewed academic journals” are the high-water mark and are what we are relying on for this assignment.

Finding Citations Easily on Academic Journal Websites

Another important term to learn for this assignment is “review articles.” Review articles are research studies that gather all the previous peer-reviewed research on a given subject, offering insights into overall findings and trends. These are the most reliable research studies out there — the gold standard of what we know to be true (in scholarly terms, as far as genuine experts know, at this time).

To offer a direct link, without logging in, here is an example of a sample topic using the free “Google Scholar” service:

On that page, please notice in the left sidebar, that the link to “Review articles” is selected, as shown in red text.

So, as review articles, these search results should each be collections of many studies — gathered, compared, and contrasted in a new study — similar to what you are doing in the Issue Exploration Essay.

One of the top articles on this sample search, for example, has the title, “The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity.” By searching for that title on regular Google, we find the academic journal’s website and article here: Notice, on that page, that there is a link to “Cite this article.”

You may use similar “citation” links to generate (or customize) that information into an MLA formatted citation — quickly, easily, and accurately. See the diagram below to check on MLA formatting.

Notice that a “DOI address” should be offered on those pages, on the academic journal websites. Please include those links in your citations on the essay’s “Works Cited” page.

Pro-tip: I check for DOI addresses on each major citation on your Issue Exploration Essay’s “Works Cited” page.

To help with your research using the “review articles,” mentioned above, what I’m referring to are the article’s “References” — citations for the review article itself. For example, on this “review article,” there are 70 other studies listed for this one review article, alone:

So, if you were doing an IEE on this topic, you could use that main article — along with other research articles cited there as references — especially the major studies that the review article is relying on heavily. Does that make sense? If not, please ask me about it!

Pro-tip: Once you find a “peer-reviewed article in an academic journal,” you can often find the same article (using regular Google) by searching for the article’s title “in quotation marks” (to limit your search for that exact phrase). Often, the actual academic journal’s article will offer a proper MLA-formatted citation (look for “citation” or “cite” links). You may use those on your “Works Cited” page in (or adapted to) MLA formatting.

Pro-tip: While on that website, find and use the article’s “DOI” address in your citation. The DOI system is a way to link to academic journal articles so they always point to the right place online (even if the academic journal redesigns its website, goes out of business, or whatever). If there is no DOI address, then it is probably not “peer-reviewed research published in an academic journal!”

Pro-tip: On your Works Cited page, remember to select each citation and type both [Ctrl] and “T” (at the same time) to create a “hanging indent,” as required in MLA formatting.

Pro-tip: On your MLA-required “Works Cited” page, remember to list your citations in alphabetical order — by the lead author’s last name. I also check for that, specifically, while grading.

Choosing Your IEE Topic

There’s another reason I used an example from Google Scholar. Before even beginning your IEE, Google Scholar can help you run some quick searches to see if there are enough (review) articles on a specific topic. However, since the full articles that Google links to are (often) behind a paywall, search for the same article using online databases, like Academic Search Complete, to get access to the full text.

Pro-tip: Before selecting a specific topic, try running some quick searches, using the online databases and/or Google Scholar, to see if there are a variety of studies examining the same topic to offer contrasting opinions as required in the IEE. Let the research lead the way.

Note: The goal for your topic is to select an issue you’re likely to encounter in (what may become) your future career.

When the instructions call for a “debated” issue, it is NOT asking for something covered in the news last night, or argued about on a recent panel show on television, or that someone ranted about on a radio talk show. Such newsy topics are often so new that they have no “scholarly research studies published in peer-reviewed academic journals,” which is what your Issue Exploration Essay is based on. See the problem there? Think about problems that have been around for years.

Instead, by “debated,” the IEE instructions refer to a recurring problem or ongoing issue, so there are differing opinions among industry professionals and experts.

By studying one of those topics, when the issue arises in the future at your workplace, you’ll already grasp the issue’s complexities.

Consequently, unless you’re becoming, say, a medical doctor, or will study criminology, you probably shouldn’t select issues related to, for instance, abortion or the death penalty, however debated or controversial they may be. (By the way, please note that issues related to death, in general, are sometimes more depressing than students expect.)

So, instead, former students majoring in accounting have written about issues related to conducting audits properly.

Future educators have researched tuition increases in colleges and problems of bullying at school.

Engineering students have considered the ethics of weapons design.

Those studying music, or audio engineering, have examined problems in the music industry, including competing ideas on copyright and how musicians are paid for their efforts.

And, those seeking a career in Human Resources examined the impacts of raising the minimum wage — as in, actual impacts, not those pre-supposed on a radio talk show.

Things of this nature are what is meant by “debated.” All of the approaches to these recurring or ongoing challenges are debatable. Discovering that debate, and the differing views around it, are a big part of what the IEE is about.


Thus, the goal of the IEE is to present experts’ findings, as published in academic journals, on various ongoing issues, including insights from some of the world’s foremost experts in specific fields and industries.

These studies are “peer-reviewed,” which means that the experts’ research is studied by many other experts — who were not participating in the study — and who must agree that the findings are both true and valid (or the studies wouldn’t have been published in an academic journal).

One impact of that goal is that the Issue Exploration Essay primarily covers the experts’ findings.

Your own opinions are relegated to the conclusion. Even there, it is perhaps best to emphasize what you’ve learned from your research, demonstrating your consideration of a variety of contradictory viewpoints, at the same time — a mark of maturity and an important part of the assignment.

An important secondary note is that the IEE should be written in a formal style. In formal writing, we try to avoid phrasing and word choices that may sound either informal or that sound extreme — including overstatements, exaggerations, or hyperbole. When we overstate, we may cause doubts to arise in the minds of our readers because, if we are only partially right, then we are partially wrong as well.

“Why Not Just Use Google?”

Finally, some may still wonder, “Why don’t we use the regular internet, and regular online articles, for our research?” Here are three reasons why we don’t:

  1. It’s too big. It is common to find thousands of documents on any one topic. That’s too many and could take you years just to read through them. It takes some expert training to narrow the results.
  2. It’s too commercialized. There are thousands of companies trying to sell you something on the Internet, so there are many distractions you have to weed through. Whether it’s an outright ad on the screen, an article posing as informative but really trying to sell you something, or someone who paid Google to have their articles show up on your searches (relevant or not), they are all time-wasters for someone doing serious research. Like you.
  3. It contains mistakes and untruths. There are no controls on Internet material (that’s part of its magic). That means ANYONE can put ANYTHING out there under false names and false pretenses. Rather than spend your time trying to verify or validate some of this stuff, use a “paid for” database to start with. Then you know the material has already been subject to verification — by genuine experts in the field. Nowadays, there are fake “academic” online journals, posting articles to the highest bidder. These databases weed those out, too.


Complete these readings as you work through this unit:

Good Luck!

That was a lot of material to cover. It’s a big assignment!

How do you walk 1,000 miles? One step at a time.

So, in the next few units, that assignment will be broken down into many smaller ones, helping you to get it done quickly, easily, and successfully.

Again, if you have any questions, please just ask!