Back to School: Research Tips for New COMM Students

Welcome back, SOC’ers! It’s the beginning of Fall semester, which means lots of new classes and new adventures in communication studies and research.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

For those of you new to the field, here are a few tips to get you started on the right foot in your School of Communication courses and projects. If you have additional questions (or for experienced COMM students, additional advice), don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Good luck, and happy first week, everyone!

“Best” Databases for Scholarly & Professional Articles

By and large, COMM students need one of three types of scholarly and professional articles to complete their academic students at AU:

  1. Articles from communication-focused publications, like the Columbia Journalism Review and Journal of Communication;
  2. Articles from film, television, or entertainment-focused publications like Variety or Film Quarterly; and
  3. Articles from publications focused on hybrid business/media topics like Advertising Age or Journal of Advertising.

Consequently, it’s important for new COMM students to become familiar with databases that fit all, some, or one of these specific categories. There are many databases that cover such topics adequately, but here are four of the most popular here at AU:

  1. Communication & Mass Media Complete: one of the most comprehensive databases for communication research, this resource indexes more than 730 titles and includes online full-text access for over 420 journals related to communication, mass media, and journalism. Essential for all communication classes.
  2. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text: a database that provides cover-to-cover indexing and abstracts for more than 300 publications as well as full text for more than 90 journals. Great for students in film and media arts courses or COMM 100.
  3. ABI/Inform (Business and Management): Contains citations, abstracts, and full text of articles from international business and management publications, academic journals, and trade magazines published worldwide. Great for public communication classes.

“Best Books” for Communication Courses

Ever get tired of looking up communication-related books in the catalog? Have you ever just wanted to know where to go to find all the new film studies publications in the library?

While communication books can technically be located anywhere in the library, there are actually a few key places in the library where SOC-relevant books tend to get shelved. This is because the AU Library uses the Library of Congress Classification system, which groups books according to their primary subject or topic. For example, here are six ranges of library call numbers that correspond to subjects relevant to SOC students:

  • P 87-96Mass media communication (3rd floor of library)
  • PN 1990-1997Broadcasting, television, film, & radio (3rd floor of library)
  • PN 4699-5639Journalism and the periodical press (3rd floor of library)
  • TRPhotography and photojournalism  (lower level of library)
  • Z 40-115Communication writing  (3rd floor of library)
  • Z 657-661Freedom of the press, censorship. (3rd floor of library)

So don’t delay — get to know your stacks today! You’ll become an expert in your COMM specialty in no time.

“Best” Techniques for Searching Google

Alright, let’s face it — just because you’re back on campus doesn’t mean you’re going to be doing all your research using campus resources (I’m a librarian, I know these things). Part of being a successful SOC student is knowing how to search the Internet at large, in addition to more formal academic tools like scholarly databases and books. For this reason, let me give you a quick run-down of my favorite advanced techniques for searching Google. Some of them you know … but how many do you use regularly?

  • Use quotes to find phrases. By searching for [“social media”] and not just [social media] in Google, you’ll find hits that contain the full phrase you’re looking for — a great way to narrow your ultimate list of results.
  • Use “site:” to search by domain or within a given website. Let’s say you want to find mentions of “social media” — but only from government websites. Try searching for [“social media” site:.gov] and that’s exactly what you’ll get! The site search also works for a specific website, like [“social media” site:american.edu]. I use this one a lot if a website I’m browsing doesn’t have a good internal search tool.
  • Use #..# to look for a range of dates of numbers. Imagine you want to find government webpages that mention “social media” but that focus only on the last few years — maybe 2010 onward. Google allows users to search not only on specific keywords and sites, but also to include hits that mention numbers or dates within a limited range. For instance, to complete the described search, you might try [“social media” 2010..2012 site:.gov]. Very useful for research into topics with long histories, too — like presidential elections.
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