Welcome to “Unravelling the Mystery Research Strategy,” this month’s edition of From Behind the Bookshelf. As we attempt to navigate our new environment, a number of issues are being debated: virtual access to education, insufficient supplies of PPE, relaunching the economy, etc. Resolving these issues requires reliable, unbiased information. Hopscotch is probably not at the forefront of any of these discussions, but one cannot deny how visible the markings have recently become on the sidewalks in our neighbourhoods. I invite you to join me in unravelling the mysteries of a strategy for researching hopscotch, a topic so insignificant yet so undeniable.
The initial step in any research strategy is to survey background information, the scope of which can range from conversations with others to excerpts from encyclopedias, textbooks, or handbooks. Here you begin to define and focus your topic. With respect to hopscotch, it was during a conversation with a colleague that I was made aware of how complicated the game had become, incorporating various spins and “superhuman jumps,” all of which go far beyond the traditional 10 squares. It was like the game had adapted to satisfy the appetites of a generation accustomed to elaborate exploits in video games. Another shocking realization was the amount of “trash-talk” associated with this new version—the familiar “I Dare You!” is scripted on almost every sidewalk. It was during this conversation that my interest in the topic beyond the more traditional links of hopscotch to motor skills or play was piqued. An encyclopedic entry and a brief scan of a Google results list completed the background information phase of my research.
With more questions than answers, I needed to focus. Understanding my topic’s context would be invaluable. I knew a survey of books would give me a deeper appreciation of the topic which, in turn, would help me focus on one particular aspect. Throughout this process, I documented search-relevant terms I might use to find information sources that could answer questions of who, what, where, when, why and how. As I consumed more information, I began formulating a thesis and possible outline. This process is iterative and I knew my thesis would take many forms before it was finalized. Once a working thesis was created, my research became more deliberate in terms of the tools I used, the ways in which I used them, and my results.
I have always felt the research process could be drawn as an inverted triangle, with reference sources at the top, books in the middle, and specific articles at the triangle’s “pointy” end—articles tend to be extremely focused, highlighting specific concepts, age groups, geographical areas, etc. I wanted to use databases containing articles discussing hopscotch as a reflection of pop culture. I knew the best approach was to use “subject-specific” rather than “non-subject-specific” databases. Depending on my desired perspective, the database would examine the topic through a pop culture, psychology, sociology or child and adolescent development lens.
It’s my practice to search more than one database—being familiar with a particular database is not a reason to restrict one’s use of other databases. I began with a keyword search using the plethora of terms accumulated during the initial stages of my research process. I made sure to use the appropriate Boolean operators, truncation, and wildcards. I also scanned results to identify other terms/phrases, such as “media culture” or “post-modern world,” which produced more relevant hits. Utilizing the “subject terms” identified by the databases themselves was another way to produce pertinent results. I’ve found that a combination of “keywords” and “subject terms” often seems to produce the best results. I included the use of both limiters and expanders as a means of narrowing and expanding the results. To ensure I wasn’t leaving anything to chance, I used the same approach when searching “non-subject-specific” databases as well.
It was very time consuming and at times frustrating, but I knew perseverance was the key to a successful strategy. I was fortunate in that my “information need” didn’t require me to use interlibrary loans. After a careful analysis of the information, I can state with complete confidence that “hopscotch is more than just a game, it is a reflection of popular culture.”
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