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What should you be looking for in the books and articles to be used for your research reports? Most students it seems will begin their research project by hopping on the Internet with a key word or two and browsing awhile. Once they find some appropriate articles they try and splice them together to make a well suited report that matches their original idea or proposal to the professor. This is easy to do because there's a LOT of stuff out there on the web.
Unfortunately...it's the wrong way to do it.First of all there are five approaches to go about developing the information for your report.

Type 1: The historical approach.
Like you did in high school. You define the topic with a lot of help from the encyclopedia, plus other types of books or articles which portray the evolution of an idea and then followed it historically to the present. Examples could include the progress of technology (e.g. the PC), certain types of legislation, or management theory, etc.

Type 2: The Normative approach.
In this case you are trying to develop your ideas along what is considered "normal" in a domestic or foreign society or situation. You are looking for opinions and research that supports the norms of that culture. For example: Hypothesis: Women are denied access to top management positions in the U.S. because of deep-seated male biases. If you disagree with that statement, your job is to research the opinions of learned social leaders about the behavior of American males in organizations regarding the advancement of women.
And prove your point, according to the standards or norms of that society.

Type 3: The Behavioral approach.
Many people are not swayed by the opinions of others and insist on seeing the facts in the case. These "facts" theoretically speak for themselves because they are quantitatively based. That is, we can prove our point with statistics (keeping in mind the old adage that there are: "...lies, damn lies, and statistics.").
The primary question here is how the survey instruments/data have been created, applied and interpreted.

Type 4: The Survey approach.
This approach is basically, a comprehensive, annotated bibliography that seeks to identify all of the relevant information on a particular topic. For example, Ph.D. dissertations must give comprehensive surveys of the research in their (narrow) area.

Type 5: The Contingency approach.
More than likely, this is what you envision as your research report. That is a combination of the first four approaches...contingent on what you find! The more far-sighted students on the other hand will try and build a research model that focuses on using all of the approaches, if that's the intent, but to the degree determined by the student researcher. For example: In the hypothesis cited in the Normative Approach, one should look for behavioral statistics which support the normative position. That is, opinions which have the strength of empirical (tested) evidence.
This can be followed up by trends (historical evidence) and supported by published experts in the field (survey evidence).
The degree to which you apply these approaches is the art versus the science of report writing.

Along with these approaches one should keep in mind the sources of information. Books for example, may cover the topic comprehensively, but could be considered outdated almost before they are published (look at the bibliography and see the dates listed for the publications).
Articles on the other hand, can be selected to be as contemporary as possible (it's
always useful to determine when the opinions and statistics of these articles were in fact obtained by the author...it could be a recent article with relatively old information). One of the means for establishing quality in the research is either by using books from
known publishing houses and articles from refereed journals (that is a committee of experts employed by the editor to review submissions by authors in an anonymous process).
The bottom line is this. The quality of the research report will depend on the student's ability to establish a solid hypothesis and support that hypothesis with quality information from web sites, books, articles, interviews, brochures, etc. that can be recovered...it does little good to write a terrific report, but provide a bibliography that contains
web sites where the database is of questionable quality or so large that the orginal information cannot be found. Sort of like having a fascinating person whom you sat next to on the plane...that you'd like to meet again...give you their business card with their last name on it and nothing more.

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