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Make a copy of any highly relevant material you find in the course of your search because you may want to consult it repeatedly. Highlight particularly relevant passages or, better still, stick a "post-it" label on the page with a brief note about the topic. You can then find the relevant passages without having to flip through the entire article or report, and you can easily remove these labels when you have finished dealing with the topic.
One of the principal objectives of conducting a literature search is to learn what others have discovered about the causes of the kind of problem you are tackling, particularly its "near" causes (those factors that most immediately contributed to the problem). Knowing what they have found will be useful to you in analyzing your own problem. Your analysis can check whether factors that have been implicated in the past also hold true in your situation.
It is only when you have achieved an understanding of your problem that you can expect to identify effective responses. You will know you have achieved this understanding when you are able to provide answers to the five "W" and one "H" questions:†
† For a fuller discussion of these questions, see Clarke and Eck (2003).
When you can answer these sorts of questions with reasonable certainty, you will have developed a hypothesis about your problem. A hypothesis is a statement that explains why the problem is occurring. The hypothesis points you in the direction of certain responses and away from others.
Keep a record of responses you identify by constructing a summary grid similar to that found at the end of each of the problem-specific guides in the Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series. For each response, note the prime source and explain how the response works, the conditions under which it works best, and any special considerations, such as costs or legal requirements. Your grid should have one row for each response and five columns as below:
|Response||Source||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
This table will be a summary of the most valuable results of your search. You might need more detailed information for the responses you believe will be most effective in your situation. For example, if you think you might want to install CCTV cameras to improve surveillance, you might need information about the different CCTV systems on the market, their costs and their relative advantages and disadvantages.† Returning to your computer and the library one more time should help you find the facts you need and enable you to profit from the experience of others.
† The Problem-Oriented Guides for Police now include a Response Guide Series that presents detailed information about commonly used responses.
The Internet and the development of online social science databases have made it much easier for you to find research and best practice that can help with your problem-oriented project. A few hours spent at the computer, and time spent in a nearby public or college library, can unearth a wealth of relevant material. For some problems that are new or rare, the haul might be more meager. And it is sometimes difficult to find your way around the Internet or locate the material in libraries. But it is always worth seeking to profit from the labors of others. Learning what they have discovered could jump-start your efforts and save you valuable time later in your project.
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