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AEM 2420: Marketing (Spring 2015): Breaking Down a Research Topic

Pulling out the concepts

Most research topics have multiple concepts that you have to pull out in order to effectively research that topic.  This is not difficult to do, but is also important to not overlook.

Consider the research topic: Do certain smells affect whether or not someone will purchase an automobile?  There are three research concepts in this research topic.  Take a second to consider what they are.

1. Smells

2. Purchasing

3. Automobiles

No matter what, when you research this topic, you need these 3 concepts to appear in the results.  Fortunately, most databases have an advanced search that allow you to separate concepts and automatically combine them using an "AND" to sure they all appear in the results.  See below for an example:

Here is another example of a research topic.  Does a teenager's level of self-esteem affect the amount of alcohol they consume. What are the three concepts in this research topic?   (1. Teenager, 2. Self-esteem, 3. Alcohol Consumption)

Now have a look at your research topic for the project you are working on.  What are the concepts?


Databases will frequently designate terms as "Subjects" to articles.  These subjects should be prominent themes in an article.  If a term is listed as a "Keyword" or "Anywhere" search term, then it can literally appear anywhere in the record.  In other words, the term might just be mentioned in passing.  If a term is a "Subject" you can be reasonably sure that the term is a major recurring concept in the artlcle.  

Using synonyms and the asterisk are good ways to find more results on a topic.  Using subjects will be a good way to get fewer and more relevant results.  The tricky thing about subjects is that it can be difficult to guess what a subject terms are used to represent a concept.  You can do this in one of two ways.  First, subjects will usuably be linkable in articles.  If you can find one relevant article using a keyword search, then click on the subjects to find other relevant articles.

See below for an example record in ABI/Inform.  Note that this will look different in other databases, but just about all of them have subjects.


The other option is to find the database's thesaurus and use that to determine what the subjects are.  Then, type them in to the search box and from the keyword or anywhere dropdown option, select Subject instead.

Sometimes it's appropriate to use subjects for some concepts, but not for others.  Examine your results, determine whether or not certain concepts are prevalent enough and be flexible. In the Automobile example, it may be a good idea to use a subject for automobile and smells, but it may not be necessary for purchase.  Try a few different things until you like the results that appear.

Brainstorming synonyms

It's important to consider that for anything you research, the terms you use might not directly match with the terms used in the article.  If you use a different term or concept than what is used for any given article in the database, then that article will not appear.  

To elaborate, if you search for the word "Automobile" but the article instead uses the word "Vehicle", then that article will not appear.

The best way to get around this is to consider and search for synonyms. Let's consider the concepts from the research topic "Do certain smells affect whether or not someone will purchase an automobile?"  

What are some synonyms for the word Smells? (Scent, odor, aroma)

What are some synonyms for the Purchase? (buy, acquire)

What are some synonyms for Automobile? (car, vehicle)

Note, words don't always have to be exact synonyms.  In the above example, for purchase, terms like sell or market or advertising may get at the term in a similar way.  

We can enter these terms into a database in such a way that it doesn't matter which term representing a concept appears in the article, just as long as one of them appears.  It doesn't matter if the concept is represented by the term car or Vehicle, or Automobile, it just has to be represented by one of them.  

When we enter them into the database, each concept keeps it's own line, and all of the terms representing a concept are combined with "OR" on that line.  See below for how this might look:

To take this a step further, most databases do not know to search for different forms of a word, for example, plural or past tense forms of a word.  To get around this, you can use the base part of a word and add a wildcard (usually an asterisk) to ensure all forms of a word will be searched for. For example, if you type in the word advertising, you will only get that word exactly as you type it in.  If the word advertisement appears in the article (as opposed to advertising), then chances are you will not get that article.  Instead if you use advertis*, you will get advertising, advertisement, advertisements, advertise, and any other form of the word you can think of.  Applying this strategy to the terms in the above example, you will have a search that looks like this:


Apply these skills to your current topic

These skills can all be applied to your research project for this class.  In some cases, you can simplify the techniques, and in some cases you can think about other ways of finding relevant resources for your project.  

Try going to the database PsycInfo, to find this article:  

Banyard, V.L. (2011). Who will prevent sexual violence: Creating an ecological model of Bystander Intervention. Psychology of Violence, 1(3), 216-229. Retrieved from PsycInfo.

This article is a great starting place for your research.  More importantly, how might you use it to find more articles?