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Introduction to Library Research

Research is investigation and examination. It begins with a question or problem, follows clues, gathers and evaluates evidence, and finally solves the question. Once you master the steps in this process, research can be enjoyable and  rewarding.  Plan ahead and allow enough time to get the materials you need. Anticipate that there may be problems in retrieving the information. The book may be checked out of the library, the journal may be at the bindery, or the database may be down the weekend you planned to use it. You will not find all the information that you need in one or two sources. One source will lead you to another. Keep records of which resources you have used. This will save you time in the long run because you  will have the necessary information if you need to return to a particular resource or to site your sources. The following steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper in the university library. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the library, you may need to re-arrange these steps. Reference librarians can assist you with any step of this process.

Identify and develop your topic
Example: "What are the effects of genetically modified foods to human health ?"  
State your topic as a question. Identify the main concepts, categories, and  keywords in your question.   Main concepts are underlined in the example.

Find background on your topic
Example: "genetically modified food" is synonymous with "genetically engineered food" or "genetically modified food" or "genetically engineered organisms" or "genetically modified organisms", or "GMOs".  Find background information first, then use more specific and recent sources. Read articles in general or specific  encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Note the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles for any further readings. Look up your keywords in the indexes to subject encyclopedias, database indexing languages, or thesauri. Find synonyms and related words to your topic. You can use them in your search to find information on your topic.

Find books
Search the library catalog. Use keyword searching for a narrow or complex search topic. Use subject searching for a broad subject. Print or write down the exact citation (author, title, etc.) and the location information (call number and type of book: reference, circulating, or folio). Note the status of the book (available or not). In the actual book, look at the index, table of contents, and note bibliographies for further reading. 

Find periodical articles
Use periodical indexes and abstracts (print, online, or both) to find citations to or full text articles. Choose the indexes and format best suited to your topic; ask a reference librarian to assist you with this. You can find articles by author, title, subject, or keyword using the periodical indexes in the Henry Whittemore Library. Print out or record the citation of the article. To find out if this library owns the periodical in which your article is published consult our "Periodical Holdings List" (located at search stations). If this library does not own your journal,  request an Interlibrary loan or ask a reference librarian to locate which other library owns this item.

Use Bibliographies to Expand Your Search
A bibliography is a record of what has been published on a particular topic. Bibliographies (often called References) are found at the back of book and textbooks, at the end of research articles and term papers, or are published on their own.

Find reviews
Search the library periodical indexes (print or online) such as Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Book Review Index, Book Review Digest, and New York Times Index. For other information on fiction and nonfiction reviews as well as reviews on theatre, dance, etc. , ask a reference librarian. 

Use the Web
Use search engines to locate materials on the Web such as Yahoo and Google.

Find video and audio recordings
Search the library catalog. Limit your search by material type: video or audio recording. 

Find images
Search the Library Catalog. Limit your search by material type "folios". Also you can search the Web with numerous  search engines such as Google or  Yahoo

Find maps
Search Library Catalog. Limit search to material type "maps." 

Interlibrary loan (ILL)
You can request an ILL for books this library does not own. 

Site your sources
Make a record of your research. Write out or print the complete citation for each source you find. Format the citations in your bibliography using the Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) standards. See also Citing Electronic Information  in the APA and MLA styles. If you are writing an annotated bibliography, see How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography. For assistance contact the Center for Academic Support and Advising (CASA).

Some Tips to Remember

  • Work from the General to the Specific
  • Translate your topic (keywords) into the subject language of the particular tool (catalogue or index) you're working with
  • Document your sources as you go along - write down, print or e-mail to yourself titles, authors, page numbers, etc.                       
  • Become a Critical Thinker - evaluate the quality of information you find. 
  • Ask for help at the Reference Desk on the 1st floor of the Henry Whittemore Library


For more information on these topics see:

Quaratiello, Arlene. The College student's Research Companion. Neal-Shuman Publishers, New York: c2000.
Gradowski, Gail. Designs for Active Learning : a Sourcebook of Classroom Strategies for Information Education. Association of College & Research Libraries, Chicago : The Association, 1998. 

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