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Research How: Information Literacy Toolbox: Getting Started With Research

Find tutorials on navigating the library website, resources for your research journey through searching, evaluating, & citing, and subject specific guides & databases

Instruct: Getting Started With Research


Research doesn't have to be hard, but it does take time.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Read your assignment thoroughly and carefully.
    • What is your professor asking you to do? What types of resources do you need to find? How many? What citation style are you required to use? When is your assignment due?
  2. Choose your topic.
  3. Brainstorm.
    • What do you know about your topic?
    • What does your audience know?
    • What do you need to show/prove to get your point across?
  4. Write a list of key words.
    • The more you know about your subject, the easier it is to find information to support your argument.
    • Create a list of all the words commonly used to describe your topic. This will make it easier to modify your search terms while conducting library research.
  5. Pick your source(s) and start searching.
    • Do you need to find scholarly articles? Books? News? Images? The library has resources to help you locate whatever you need.
    • Need help choosing the best database or resource? ASK US!


Do you have a topic but don't know how or where to start researching it?

It's ok!  You don't need to be an expert on a topic to do a report about it.
Review your class assignment, looking for keywords or terms that can help you define your topic. Use these keywords to search the library catalogs and databases. Also note what types of sources your instructor requires, for example: book chapters, newspaper articles, magazine articles, or peer-reviewed journal articles.

A good place to start (especially if you don't know much about your topic), is the Library Catalog to help you find books that give you general information. Encyclopedias are good for concise explanations and contextual data. A librarian can recommend the best encyclopedias or other reference materials you may want to use.

Build on your basic information and skills. Avail yourself to information in all formats: Books (on the shelves and online); Periodicals (journal, magazine, newspaper articles both on the shelves and through databases); Digital media (videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc.); and even some Internet sites.

Your professor will tell you whether you are allowed to use Web sites as resources. Most people can surf the Internet and find topical information but cannot determine if what they've found is accurate, objective or up-to-date. You can learn how to analyze Web site content by using our Website Evaluation Checklist.

For assistance on developing the most efficient research strategy and identification of local resources, contact a reference librarian at the library or via Ask Us.


Choosing & Developing your Topic

The first step toward a successful research paper is selecting a topic that is neither too broad nor too narrow.

If you have the freedom to choose your own topic, be sure to choose a topic that will sustain your interest. Additionally, the topic should be one you can research sufficiently in the time allowed, research using the tools and resources readily available to you, read about in a language you read well, and that your professor deems suitable for your assignment.

Start with a broad topic area (this might already be decided for you as a requirement of a course) and narrow this down to select a specific topic for your paper so that you don’t waste time wading through too much information.

When deciding upon a topic, remember these three rules:

  1. Decide the area you are interested in writing about  (ex:  global warming)
  2. Define the topic you wish to research (ex:  effects of global warming on children)
  3. Refine the topic area so that the topic is manageable - neither too large nor too small (ex: effects of global warming on children in New Zealand where the ozone is the weakest)


Deciding on a topic you'd like to write about and defining the parameters of your research is one of the most challenging and important aspects of the research process. If you need more help with this step, consult your professor or look for ideas in the research guides which have been prepared by the subject librarians.


Which resources do I need?

Next, you need to build on the basic information you've gathered by researching your topic across other formats and resources like books, periodicals, databases, etc.  Deciding where to search and what resource you need can be determined in part by the kind of information you are looking for:

  • Do you need articles from academic/scholarly sources? 
  • Do they need to be Peer-Reviewed? 
  • Do you need articles from a newspaper or other current-event source? 
  • Do you need statistics or other data? 
  • Does the information you are looking for need to be research-based?
  • Are you looking for primary sources, archived information, digital collections? 

Some of these questions may be answered by the subject you are researching or the parameters of the assignment you are working on.