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EH 102_Noletto: Researching Community

This guide provides a quick reference for a variety of resources, tools, and strategies to aid you while exploring your topics. Use this to get started, but we encourage you to reach out to a librarian to learn more and workshop your topics as needed!

Mind Mapping or Brainstorming Topics into a Searchable Thesis

While you may start with a basic concept to explore, often that topic will change and grow as you find resources or encounter disparate viewpoints that uncover new ways to approach or refine a given concept. Even a relatively broad topic needs a bit of refinement. Let's say you were interested in investigating group behavior or group/communal identities formed during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. That phrase has the potential to become an overwhelming research project with too broad a focus for this assignment. It might be better to focus on finding observable evidences or discussion around a particular aspect or factor of the pandemic and potential correlation to new group or communal identities forming as a result. Individual tend to tribalize or "group up" around shared ideas, goals, or value systems, which is one way of defining a community. So, how can we nail down a research question worth investigating? Let's start off with broad ideas, then refine a bit.

As an example of a potential topic, consider conflicting reactions and confrontational behaviors expressed by certain groups or communities (political, religious, racial, ethnic, regional, etc.) throughout the pandemic to the policies, mandates, and initiatives put in place at a community level (i.e., churches, schools, businesses, etc.). Formulate a few questions of your own that might lead to an interesting research proposal, such as: Did particular religious groups respond in a noticeably homogeneous manner, and if so, why? Were certain communities more resistant to mask mandates than others? Is there an observable behavior of specific communities that seem to reject the science of the vaccine in contrast to communities who overall embrace it? The list can go on, but you might want to keep it focused, while not being "too" narrow.

Let's select a few criteria to keep things manageable, such as: Have members of minority or p.o.c. communities been more resistant to getting the vaccine than other communities along racial or ethnic lines? Why or why not? Now, this might be something we could workshop a bit. Some general web searching would eventually reveal some conversations being had about this topic, notably discussions around hesitancy to take the vaccine amongst certain p.o.c. communities, particularly African-American communities. A cursory search reveals that this seems to be debatable, with websites and articles seemingly at odds with whether or not this is true, and even some discussion of why this perception exists in the first place, such as historic atrocities and unethical medical practices committed against African-Americans in the past. This controversy and uncertainty in the literature means this is a perfect topic for a research article, since exploring opposing viewpoints on a controversial topic is a major reason for research papers in the first place! Since our assignment has parameters confining us to explore this topic in the context of community & the greater good, I would need to reach out to Dr. Noletto to see if this topic, or a variation of it, is acceptable. If so, we can begin to refine this concept into a theme relevant to the class.

With this more focused idea in mind, consider the below process for your own Mind Mapping purposes. Mind Mapping is simply a form of brainstorming one's ideas, developing raw concepts into a searchable thesis statement, which then will yield more efficient search terms for the research process itself. Keep in mind the following questions when formulating or refining your ideas:

What is your issue, Who/What group does it effect/is effected by, How/Why is this effecting them, and what is a potential Proposed Solution(s) for this crisis? When brainstorming, try the below exercise. I'll use my example regarding vaccine hesitancy among African-American communities:

  • Consider/write down the basic topic you are interested in
      • Ex.-- vaccine hesitancy among African-American communities

  • Write down a question or statement you’d like to argue/explore regarding your topic (these can be refined during the research process, remember that!:

    • Is there an observable hesitancy to, or rejection of, the vaccine among African-American communities? What lead to this behavior, and why is it a community level response to the issue? Is it really communal or just a vocal minority? What steps can be taken to help this community and its members in the context of this issue? What responsibility do other communities have to dialogue with members of this community? How can this work for the greater good of all in our society, locally and globally?

    • Concern among many within the  African-American community regarding the safety of the vaccine stems from verifiable accounts of mistreatment and medical experimentation in the early 20th century. Therefore, improving dialogue and a discourse of empathy between medical professionals and leaders from various African-American communities can help save lives improve race relations across the country.

  • Take note of the “action” terms in your query; pull those out to use as search terms (major terms, people)
    • African-American, community, safety, health, vaccine, medical experimentation, mistrust, 20th century

      • note words that you think will be good "starter" terms to have the best chance at finding relevant materials across the most information resources (i.e., Google, library databases, etc.)

    • Write down a few synonyms/phrases for those words or related terms of note

      • You will use these as supplemental search terms as needed

        • persons of color, minorities, medicine, wellness, experiments

          • ​​​​​​​these might be simple synonyms, or altogether other means of referring to a topic; they might be handy if you run into a "brick wall" when researching; don't be afraid to mix up your terms, especially as you discover new ones in the articles and books you find

So, in the exercise above, I built a statement I could further argue for/against and research to make that point. It simultaneously helped me develop some potentially useful terms and ideas for a search vocabulary that I can leverage in a search engine like Google, or even within a curated library database for more scholarly sources. Spending a few minutes refining your topic will save you some time and facilitate a more efficient search experience later! 

Remember to clear your research topic with Dr. Noletto first, though!