- Choose a Topic
- Build a Search Vocabulary
- Search Print and Electronic Sources
- Read, Analyze, Repeat
- Start the Writing Process
Choosing a Topic
Selecting a topic for a research paper or project can be challenging. You will want to select a topic that is of interest to you. This will make the research, reading, and writing less of a chore. But you will also want to choose a topic that has sufficient source material. If you need to write a 10 page paper and select an event that just happened last week, there won't be enough material to learn from. It is a good idea to wait to decide on a topic until you do some preliminary searching for books, articles, and Web-based resources. If you can't find enough, you will want the flexibility to select a new topic.
Building a Search Vocabulary
The objective here is to familiarize yourself with your topic. Write a list of words, phrases, people, and events that relate to your topic. Start with broad concepts and work towards more specific ideas, depending on how much information you find. This is the only time resources like Wikipedia are okay. You should never use Wikipedia as a resource for your paper, but it can help you come up with ideas about where you want to focus your topic.
This is also the time start searching the library's catalog. Use the Subject Browse option to see if your search terms are the same ones that are used by libraries to catalog materials.
This is often the most time-consuming part of the process. Don't get discouraged! You may find you have to broaden or narrow your topic. You will most likely go off on tangents and circle back to concepts. Keep track of the vocabulary terms that work. Keep track of the databases, journals, and web resources you've visited.
- Go to the Home Page
- Click on Catalog (left-hand side)
- Enter your search terms - if it is a phrase, put double quotes around it
- Click Search
- If it is a hard copy, write down the call number
- If it is an ebook, click the link to open the book (if off campus, you will be asked to log in)
Finding Journal Articles
- Go to the Home Page
- Go to Research By Subject
- Choose a database to search or use the Search All Resources box
- Use limiters to get more specific results (such as Peer-Reviewed Only, Dates, Academic Journals, Full-Text Only)
Read, Analyze, Repeat
Although you are reading at the same time you are searching, this step is when you really sit down to read and evaluate the sources you have found. Some will be great, some won't. You may need to go back to Searching. You may need to go all the way back to step 1 or 2. Don't get discouraged! These steps often overlap and are done several times before you have a final set of sources.
Now you are ready to start writing! A great source for help in writing is the Writing Center. They have many online handouts that cover all aspects of the writing process.