Bessie Chin Library

THE RESEARCH PROCESS: Researching a Controversial Issue

(Print this page out to serve as a worksheet.)

Often when one is asked to research a contoversial issue the assignment is something like the following:
An in-depth definition and description of the issue itself with examples and/or evidence from your research.
    Example: What is abortion? Medically? Legally? Different kinds? Different stages of pregancy? Legal treatment over time?
The social problems which cause the issue and which it affects with examples/evidence.
    Examples: Women's rights; racial considerations; birth control; etc.
Potential resolutions to the issue with actual examples and/or evidence.
    Examples: Outright ban; limit to specific times; force when the government desires; etc.
The best solution based upon your reading and research.
    This is the part of the paper where you are given the opportunity to, based on your research, to make some decisions about how the problem should be handled.

Keep this in mind as you are writing your paper or doing any research:
"A thinker is someone capable of generating fresh ideas, building insight, making inventions and figuring out how to confront problems. A thinker does not rely on conventional widom and is rarely content to cut and paste the thinking of others." (Jamie McKenzie,
As you work on research projects here at Redwood, you should be getting closer every time to this ideal picture of a thinker. Don't take short cuts -- in the long run clear thinking will help you to succeed in every way.

1. OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog)

    Click on "Search the Library Catalog" from the library's home page or use the dedicated catalog stations.
    Keyword (Words anyplace in the record--author, title, subject, notes)
    Title (First words in the title)
    Subject (Controlled vocabulary)

    The record: Call number; Title; Author; [Place] and Publisher, Publication date, Physical description, Subject(s)
    Hyperlinks: Author, Subject (Other materials by a particular author or on a particular subject)

The OPAC leads you to:

2. Print resources

361-365 area of the library (both in the main room and the reference room) are where books about social problems are found.
361 (Social problems in general); 362 (Social welfare problems: Physical & mental illness); 363 (Other social problems: Public safety, Police, Public morals, Housing, Public utilities, Environmental problems, Food supply, Population); 364 (Criminology); 365 (Prisons)

172-179 area of the library (both in the main room and the reference room) are where books about ethics are found.
172 (Political ethics); 173 (Family relationships); 174 (Occupational ethics); 175 (Recreation, leisure, communication); 176 (Sex and reproduction); 177 (Social relations); 178 (Consumption; 179 (Other, including respect for human and animal life, profanity, treatment of children)

613.8 Substance abuse; 616.8 Diseases of the nervous system and mental disorders

Then check out online resources:

3. RHS Cybrary -

Social & Ethical Issues Page -

Teen Issues Page -

Health Page -

4. Online Databases
User names and passwords to the databases are found in each classroom as well as on posters in the Library Reference Room. Database passwords can also be accessed here.

Points of View Reference Center -
EBSCOhost's Points of View Reference Center provides great introductory overviews of many controversial issues. It also has pro and con articles about each topic as well. The database also provides access to magazine and newspaper articles, images, statistical information, links to good websites, primary source documents, and reference materials linked to specific controversial topics. Full articles are available in both text and MP3 format. The database is searchable and browseable (Be sure to click on the tab which says View All Topics to see the full list of topics).

EBSCOhost Magazine & Newspaper Database
Use the search box below for to search for articles using EBSCOhost. You will need to enter a user name and password. Once inside the database you can narrow your search by using various "limiters." If you need help with any aspect of the database contact the library staff. There is a direct email link to the librarian on the results page. One limiter you may want to use regularly is "Full Text" to get articles rather than just abstracts.

Another terrific source of information for controversial issues is CQ Researcher. The CQ Press has published 24-page weekly reports on all sorts of topics since 1991. And before that it produced the well-respected Editorial Research Reports. All of the CQ Researcher articles since 1991 are cataloged and can be searched by title, author, and subject. A link saying "Read article online" will take you to the database and you'll discover many more reports going all the way back to 1923! We have print versions of reports from the past six years (REF 300.973 CQ) and many of the older reports are also filed in the Pamphlet File under the topic of the report.
All reports include an overview, background, current situation, outlook, special focus, chronology, pro/con debate, bibliography, next steps, and contacts.
Controversial Topics

Once you've exhausted all the above sources try:

5. General Online Searching
Finally, if you still don't have the information you need you should search the Internet. A great tutorial on web searching can be found here.
Remember to be careful about using such broad search engines as Google and Yahoo. Lots of results come up but you need to carefully evaluate the web sites you use in your project. This is why it is often easier to use websites listed on the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center or the Library's website. They have already been checked by professional librarians and have been found to be accurate; authoritative; objective; current; and have good coverage of a topic. A good web evaluation rubric can be found here. If you'd like more help in learning how to evaluate websites take a look at this presentation on webpage evaluation.

Created September 2000; updated March 2010. Contact Webspinner. Return to Social Issues Page
©2008 TUHSD | Tom Kaun, Teacher Librarian | Bessie Chin Library @ Redwood High Schoo l | 395 Doherty Dr., Larkspur, CA 94939 | 415-945-3662