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Air Force Fellows

Contact Information

Air University Library has assigned a librarian as liaison for the AF Fellows program. The AF Fellows Librarian can be contacted at:
Telephone:  Commercial 334-953-9810  DSN 493-9810

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How to start the research process

How to Start the Research Process

Develop or refine your research topic:

If possible, explore a subject that is personally interesting to you, otherwise the entire process could be an uninspired and frustrating chore. (For assistance developing research topics, contact a librarian for a consultation!)

In a sentence or two, describe specifically what you're interested in researching. Be precise! For example, writing a paper on "Unmanned aircraft" is a very broad and varied subject area, and would pull you in too many different directions and provide far too many materials to look through. A more targeted and focused research topic would be: 

"How can the United States Air Force best defend agile airfields from small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) threats?"

We'll do a brief walkthrough of the research process below and use this as our example research question. 

Where to start looking:

Good places to start looking for research material related to this and other topics are:

  • The Air University Library Catalog (AUL's biggest "bucket" of research information and academic sources)
  • AU Student papers (AU Research) (Former student papers from across all Air University schools)
  • Databases (Huge repositories of information such as Ebsco, JSTOR, ProQuest, and more)
  • Journals (Academic journals and magazines such as The Economist, Foreign Affairs, Air & Space Operations Review, and more)
  • Subject Research Guides (Primers on various research topics such as ACE, DIMEFIL, Cross-Strait Relations, AI, and more)

Develop a search strategy:

If we were to search our catalog for a keyword such as “Counter-UAS”, we would only get a few results. However, “Counter-UAS” is jargon fairly specific to the military. Civilian academics and industry may also have valuable insight into this issue but their publications may not always use this military language. Using common terms or synonyms like “drones” may seem less specific at first, but may nevertheless uncover many more valuable items. Use your thesaurus and try out other keywords and combinations to find more useful material. Among other things, you might try:

  • Airport security 
  • Critical infrastructure protection 
  • Drone aircraft 
  • Drone vehicles
  • Remotely piloted aircraft 
  • Unmanned aircraft 
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)
  • C-UAS 
  • Counter-UAV
  • Counter unmanned aerial systems
  • Uninhabited combat aerial vehicles
  • Sensing technologies
  • Air defenses 
  • Antiairborne warfare 

For assistance developing effective and efficient search strategies, contact a librarian for a consultation! 

Filter your results:

The flipside of having to few search results can be having too many. Searching with broader language and multiple keywords may return thousands or millions of items which won't be useful to sort through, and many won't even be relevant. To make your search results more manageable, check the sidebar for filters. With these you can quickly and easily narrow down search results to just those items that best fit your needs. 

  • For example, if you're only interested in seeing what's been published in the last year or past five years, you can filter by publication date.
  • Additionally, if you only need a few brief articles and aren't interested in reading an entire book, you can filter by item type by selecting the filter: "Peer reviewed journals".
  • Furthermore, you can select specific subjects from the sidebar depending on your research focus.
    • If you're looking for more technical aspects of UAVs you can select subjects like "engineering", or "technology".
    • If you're looking into the philosophy and laws surrounding it, look instead for subjects like "ethical and moral aspects", or "international law". 

If you already have some specific parameters in mind ahead of time, try an advanced search to customize and focus your search results! 

Dig deeper:

When you discover a book, article, or document that looks relevant in your search, take time to look at some of the subject terms linked in the item description or metadata. These may help uncover more useful resources and links to new avenues of investigation. For example: 

Additionally, if you come across a particularly relevant article, check the source to see if there are even more useful items published in it. For example, suppose you came across the article, "Drone Detection and Tracking Using RF Identification Signals". If you determine that article is valuable to you, it may be worthwhile to look closer at the publication, Sensors, for additional material. 

Cite it right:

Most research platforms provide automatic citation generators in multiple formats to save you tons of time! Look for a "cite" button and copy it over, or export it to your preferred citation management application. 

If you need to add a link to your bibliography, look for a "permalink" button- this provides a permanent, stable URL that won't expire like the URL in your browser's address bar often does. 

For more information on citing and citation management apps, see our Citing and Citations Guide.

Putting it all together:

If you are researching a brand new or emerging topic, there may not be many items in that subject area just yet. In this case, part of your research process will be finding and synthesizing tangential information to better develop your topic.

Take our Counter-UAS topic as an example: If we can't find much material on that specific topic, look at potential parallel research: if there is information on methods on surveilling airfields to defend against bird strikes, can any of these existing methods or principles be applied to also identify drone threats? 

Get full access:

Some of the links you find may be subscription items paid for by Air University Library which require a login for full text access. Library logins are only available to actively enrolled AU students and faculty. If you do not have a library login, you can request a login by using your DoD or email address and specifying what school or course you are enrolled in. 

Reach out to your own personal Librarian:

Librarians are assigned to support all AU schools so students and faculty have professional, personalized assistance available six days a week. Call us, email us, submit a ticket, or just drop by during regular business hours! No question is too big or too small. 

Librarians are here to make your lives easier by saving you time, getting you connected to the things you need, and providing access to millions of academic research materials. We're much, much more than "just books"- We teach classes on digital literacy, provide workshops on 3D printing and other technologies, conduct tours and briefings for new faculty and students, curate custom research guides, and much more! 

We're available to provide research consultations in-person or online to help you refine research topics, develop better search strategies, or just help you get better oriented with the research process. Let us know how we can help!

Ask a Librarian

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