Communication Institute for Online Scholarship
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Help for Student Projects

How to use CIOS services to find material for a class project

CIOS databases contain resources that can help you identify topics for term papers and other class projects. Once you've identified a topic you can use powerful CIOS search services to locate background and reference materials. If you already have a topic in mind and are familiar with the special language that communication/journalism professionals use when they talk about your topic and perhaps as well with the names of key researchers and theorists whose work addresses your topic, skip to step 2 below.

(Please note that you may not be able to use all search features or databases if your college or university is not an institutional affiliate of the CIOS that also has a ComAbstracts subscription Click here to check which services are authorized for your browser. You can also gain unrestricted access to all CIOS online services by joining the CIOS as an individual.

1. Identifying a topic for a research paper

  • A. Using the Keyword System

    The CIOS has identified and systematized approximately 1,200 terms that have been important in the communication field. It is often useful to browse these keywords when trying to identify a research topic or a way to begin researching a topic of interest. Browsing the keyword menus may suggest alternative words or phrases or related ideas. Consult the keyword menus to further orient yourself during the beginning phases of your research.

    The keyword system allows you to branch directly from menus to CIOS search systems but visit the keyword menus only for browsing and orienting at first. Thus for the time being do not respond to the parts of the keyword forms that ask you to select a database or to submit your search. Delay conducting searches until you feel that you've done all you can to orient to the topic area. It is best not to begin using CIOS search systems too early in the research process because a search that is conducted prematurely may locate large amounts of material that may turn out to be of only marginal value.

    If you're ready, you can now transfer to the keyword menu system to browse. When you've finished browsing come back to this page and continue with step 2.

  • B. Using the Visual Communication Concept Explorer

    Communication is among the most widely ranging of all academic disciplines. Sometimes it seems as though the field is interested in everything: health care, television, marriages, great speeches, advertising, journalism, political campaigning, debate, news gathering, philosophy, ethics, diversity and gender, social movements, history, race relations, personality, media bias, democratic process, public relations, environmentalism, information systems, child development, the process of making meaning, animal interaction, popular culture, education --- the list is huge.

    In a field whose subject matter is so inclusive, how can one efficiently discover what topics, ideas, or concepts have received central attention in the field? The CIOS has invented the "Visual Communication Concept Explorer" (VCCE) for this purpose. Use it to explore related concepts from the communication literature. This unique search system can help you to gain a deep appreciation of the structure of communication knowledge. It can help newcomers to the communication literature to learn "what goes with what" conceptually.

    Use the VCCE to explore the connections between a term of interest (e.g., "television", "argument", "cancer", "family", "Internet", etc.). Click "New", then "Concept Analysis", then "Specify any concept" and enter your term in the box. Or select a term directly from the displayed menu system titled "Select concepts by category".

    In response to your search term, you'll see a graphical presentation of other terms that communication scholars have frequently interrelated with the term you submitted. You'll be able to further examine links by selecting terms for use in searching various CIOS databases, such as ComAbstracts, the CIOS Journals Indexes, or ComWeb MegaSearch.

    The VCCE also provides built in definitions for terms and can indicate who has contributed most heavily to the field's research literature treating a particular term of interest.

    As well, the VCCE can be used to examine the range of concepts authors have written about throughout their careers. This can be accomplished by clicking "New", "Author analysis", and typing the last name and first initial of a communication or journalism scholar in the input box. The resulting diagram will show the scholar you selected surrounded by the names of any individuals with whom he/she has co-published. Right click on a person's name to and left click on "concepts" from the pop up menu to open another diagram showing key concepts that person has addressed in his or her scholarship.

  • C. Using the Idea Monkey

    If you are stuck for an idea for a paper and want to see view computer generated research questions, check out the Idea Monkey. It may not generate a question you want to research but it can be very useful in demonstrating the style of questioning in play in the communication field.

  • 2. Searching CIOS databases for background material

    The CIOS has several organized collections of information that can give you further guidance for a research project. We call an organized collection of information a "database".

    The ComAbstracts database is a collection of abstracts of many recent articles from the professional periodical literature of the communication field. More than 13,000 article abstracts are available. ComAbstracts is the most powerful and comprehensive electronic archive that covers the academic communication literature. If you or your university has a subscription to ComAbstracts, it should be your starting place.

    The journals index is a massive collection of bibliographic information consisting of more than 37,000 references from the primary professional literature of the communication field. You can search the journals indexes to locate articles by particular people or to locate articles that contain particular words or phrases in their titles (e.g., "television violence").

    The hotline conference system is a database consisting of a large collection of email notes (over 45,000) that have been exchanged by hotline subscribers over the years.

    In addition, there is a large set of files that contain teaching resources, articles from the CIOS's own electronic journal ("The Electronic Journal of Communication"), descriptions of research procedures, bibliographies, course syllabi, announcements of academic events, grant opportunities, and many other textual materials. This database is called the resource library.

    CIOS search software gives you the capability of quickly searching any of these databases for any word or phrase. The key to successful searches is to have identified in advance a list of those words and phrases that are most likely to be used in texts that address your topic of interest. Before selecting a database to search, you should review the following search tips:

    • Do not search for common words or phrases that contain common words (e.g., "communication"). If your target term is used too frequently your search result will be excessively large and will be canceled automatically

    • All else being equal, search for single word targets (e.g., "parasocial" rather than "parasocial interaction").

    • Whenever possible, avoid using complex Boolean search logic (searches that use "AND", "OR", "BUT NOT" operators to join terms together). Simple, single word searches often provide better results than more complexly specified searches.

    • Try to search for simple word stems rather than complex versions of words. For example, search for "politic" rather than "political" and for "rhetoric" rather than "rhetorical".

    • Take advantage of the wildcard (*) symbol to search for text strings regardless of what follows them. For example, search for "organ*" to locate items containing "organizational", "organizing", and "organic".

    • Use the "conflation" symbol (~) to search for alternative grammatical forms of a word stem. For example, a search for "argument~" would find "argument", "argumentation", "arguments", "argumentativeness", and so on.

    • Be mindful that CIOS databases contain contribution from an international audience and therefore may contain alternative spellings for some words. For example, "color" may also appear as "colour" and "organization" may also appear as "organisation".

    You're now ready to search CIOS databases. Select a database from the list below:

    Good luck with your project!