Tips for Better Research

Why this is important

I found Username a source using Google Scholar and the Rowan library.

“I can’t find any sources!”

Two semesters back, Username and I were talking about his topic, the hateful anti-gay rhetoric spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church, that passionate, let’s just say obnoxious and vicious group responsible for the God Hates Fags signs they display at funerals for American soldiers, gay or otherwise.

God Hates You

His thesis is that the Church inadvertently creates support for the gay community. The Supreme Court mandated that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, but there’s been plenty of pushback in many locations and other rights that heterosexuals take for granted are routinely denied the gay community. Outfits like the Westboro group make it harder for regular folks to share a point of view with a group so tasteless. We don’t want to be associated with the “God Hates Fags” group, so we find it impossible to publicly support their cause.

So far, Username has been frustrated looking for sources to support his thesis. No amount of searching for “Westboro Baptist Church” has yielded the sort of evidence he’s looking for. Which is a good thing, but he doesn’t know it yet.

“I’ve been looking in the wrong place!”

  • I suggested to him that the trouble was his search technique. He was looking for direct testimony from somebody that the WBC were creating enemies for their cause.
  • I asked him why. He said he wanted evidence that we all want to associate our opinions with people we admire, and that we avoid being associated with people we despise.
  • I asked him if he could give me an example. He suggested that sometimes the sudden appearance of unexpected people in media presentations have polarizing effects on viewers’ feelings. For example, for Username, when Oprah Winfrey endorses a cause, for example, some people automatically embrace the cause to show their solidarity with Oprah, while he, that is Username, reflexively resist the cause from a similar impulse.
  • I asked him how this related to the WBC. He said the appearance of the celebrity reflects on the value and credibility of the message. It was clear from our conversation that the personalities involved in expressing an opinion affect our opinions.

“All I had to do was talk about it with someone”

  • Once we had shifted the focus away from the Westboro Baptist Church to the effect of celebrity endorsers, we had a whole new area for research to investigate.
  • A few years back, we noted, not just golf fans, but people in general, wanted to associate with Tiger Woods any way they could, which made him a massively popular product endorser. They called him the Dream Endorser. Now marketers won’t touch him with a 9-iron. Just looking at him smiling in a Buick is enough to make anybody laugh, or cringe, or both.

The process Username had been using:

  1. I want to prove my thesis that the Westboro Baptist Church creates support for gay rights.
  2. I search endlessly for “Westboro Baptist Church.”
  3. Nobody has written about the effect of the WBC on public opinion.
  4. Nobody has written about the accidental support the WBC provides for gay marriage.
  5. Since I can’t find any authoritative source that addresses itself directly to my thesis . . .
  6. I despair that there are no sources to prove my thesis, that the WBC creates support for gay rights.

The best (worst) outcome for this process:

  • Somebody would agree with me, which would prove my thesis. FAIL.
  • Somebody would have written about the idea before I did and I would simply echo them to support myself. FAIL.
  • I would “succeed” by parroting someone else’s thesis. FAIL.

What should I do instead?

  1. Think about (better yet, TALK about) my thesis until I start to raise questions that can be researched by searching something other than Westboro Baptist Church.
  2. Follow up that lead I generated for myself by raising the question of celebrity endorsement.

“This stuff actually works!”

Shortly after that conversation, I typed “celebrity endorsement” into Google Scholar and generated this lead on the second page:

The effects of negative information transference in the celebrity endorsement relationship

The source is a journal of retail management. It has nothing to do with the Westboro Baptist Church, but it has everything to do with how far people will go to distance themselves from a product (or perhaps a political or social position) on the basis of negative information about a celebrity who endorses it.

It also provides a technical term “negative information transference,” that I can use in future searches for this phenomenon I believe is at work in the WBC case.

“But I can’t actually get the article I want!”

The actual journal article was not available for free on Google Scholar. The cost to print the article was $32. And I didn’t even know if it would help me. I like Username a lot, but that was a little steep for a source of unknown value. So:

“Oh. That was easy.”

I entered the title above into the search engine for Rowan’s Campbell Library. (I didn’t even have to choose between ProfSearch and ProQuest; the generic search engine did all the work for me, since I knew the title.) The immediate result was this:

The effects of negative information transference in the celebrity endorsement relationship

Free access to the full article from ProfSearch. Free because I’m affiliated, as you are, with the Rowan library database and the thousands of journals it subscribes to. This first article, discovered after just minutes of effort, yielded this nugget:

As the pairing of the product and celebrity is continually repeated in advertisements, consumers begin to automatically associate the celebrity with the product she is promoting, setting up the potential for negative information transfer. Transference theory assumes that “the effects of past relationships (positive or negative) will carry over into future relationships” (Bunker and Ball, 2005, p. 510). When a negative celebrity event occurs, consumers gain new insights into the celebrity’s bundle of meanings, which in turn will impact the social relational process into the future (Berk and Andersen, 2000; Bunker and Ball, 2005; Chen and Andersen, 1999). We can predict that when negative meanings become part of the celebrity’s bundle of meanings, consumers will metaphorically transfer the meanings into their perception of the product as well. Thus, the negative celebrity information has the potential to not only affect how consumers feel about the celebrity, but it can also affect their feelings toward the product the celebrity is promoting.

And a second finding that shows the process to operate in reverse as well.

Associative network framing and elemental learning forms the theoretical foundation for much of the research investigating celebrity endorsement effectiveness. Associative learning theory is concerned with the factors that govern association formation when two stimuli are repeatedly presented together (Pearce, 1987). Elemental learning, which is indicative of celebrity/product associations, “treats stimulus patterns as composed of elemental units, each of which enters into the associative structure” (Harris, 2006). In a dual elemental memory pattern, both memory units exhibit equal and similar influence on each other. Thus, Till (1998)theorized that the association link that forms as a result of a celebrity endorsement can work in reverse as well. By repeatedly pairing a celebrity with a product, not only do consumers begin to think about the product when exposed to the celebrity, but they also begin to think about the celebrity when exposed to the product. Therefore, the transference of negative meanings should be expected to work in reverse, allowing negative information concerning a product to affect the perceived meanings consumers have of the celebrity as well.

So, to update that process:

  1. Think about your topic.
  2. Talk about your topic.
  3. Listen carefully for researchable topics not immediately named in your thesis.
  4. Use whatever search engine works best for you
    • Library Database directly
    • Google Scholar
    • Wikipedia articles that yield rich lists of sources you can then retrieve by title
  5. If you run into a pay wall, enter the titles in the Campbell Library database.
  6. Read about the value (both positive and negative) of celebrity endorsement.
  7. Learn about our tendency to dissociate ourselves from unsavory characters (AND their products, AND their social views).
  8. Apply that evidence—from outside your primary topic—to your very specific thesis.1

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