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How to do Library Research

Step-by-step guide for gathering research.

Top 10 Tips

1. Start early! Have first choice of books, or have books brought from another campus.

2. Keep a Log. Keeping good records of your searches can help you find them again later.

3. E-mail your searches, results lists, or whole articles to yourself from databases. Ask a librarian how!

4. Limit to Full Text in your database searches.

5. Limit to "Peer-Reviewed" or "Academic" articles if your instructor wants you to use Scholarly journal articles.

6. Start big and broad with a General search word or phrase and then narrow it down to be more specific.

7. Adding the terms AND, NOT to your search narrows it and will give you more manageable results.

8. Adding the term OR to your search broadens it and gives you a bigger pool of results.

9. Found a good source? Use the subject terms or descriptors listed to lead you to other similar sources.

10. Stuck? Ask a Librarian!


Step 1 - Choose your Topic

The first step in the research process is choosing a topic. Your topic should be broad enough that you can find sources, but narrow enough that your paper can sufficiently cover the topic in the required number of pages. For example, a topic of "Medical Marijuana" is too broad for a 3-5 page paper, but a topic of "Medical benefits of marijuana for the chronically ill" is just about the right size.

If you need some suggestions for ways to broaden or narrow your topic, the University of Michigan has a guide for Exploring your Topic.

If you need some inspiration for a topic, try brainstorming some ideas or you can:

  • Ask a librarian. They can help you think of search terms to try and help you broaden or narrow your topic.
  • Think of a topic related to your major or something you feel strongly about.

    Once you have chosen your topic, it is time to gather some background information about the topic.

    (For Steps 3-6, click on the remaining tabs at the top. "Find E-books and Books", "Find Articles", Find Websites" and "APA Help")

    Step 2 - Gather Background Information

    Before you dive into your research, you should gather some facts about your topic.

    • You can Ask a Librarian--in person, on the phone, or via e-mail.

    APA and how not to Plagiarise

    1. If you use a portion of work --not created by you-- by quoting or paraphrasing, cite the source in text and in your references.
    2. See Baker's APA Help for examples and a paper template.
    3. Still confused? Take a look at APA the Easy Way or the APA Style Manual available at the library.