The following seven steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the Library, you may need to rearrange or recycle these steps. Adapt this outline to your needs.
- Identify and Develop Your Topic
- Find Background Information
- Use Catalogs to Find Books
- Use Indexes To Find Periodical Articles
- Find Internet Resources
- Evaluate What You Find
- Cite What You Find Using A Standard Format
- Research Tips
1. Identify and develop your topic
State your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?" Or, "Are alcohol related deaths on the increase among college students?" Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question.
2. Find background information
Look up your keywords in the indexes to general encyclopedias (e.g., Britannica Online). Read articles in these encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings.
3. Use catalogs to find books
Connect to the Nimitz Library's Library Catalog. Use keyword searching (e.g., drinking) for a narrow or complex search topic. Use subject searching for a broad subject (e.g., health). Print or write down the citation (author, title, etc.), the call numbers, and special location (e.g., Reference). Note the circulation status. When you pull the book from the shelf, scan the bibliography for additional sources, especially book-length bibliographies and annual reviews on your subject; they list citations to hundreds of books and articles in one subject area. Check the standard subject subheading:
4. Use indexes to find periodical articles
"--BIBLIOGRAPHY" (e.g., HEALTH--BIBLIOGRAPHY)
or titles beginning with "Annual Review of..." in Innopac.
Use periodical indexes and abstracts to find citations to articles. The indexes and abstracts may be in print or electronic format or both. Choose the indexes and format best suited to your particular topic; ask at the Reference Desk (x32420) if you need help figuring out which index and format will be best. There are over 60 periodical indexes and databases, many of which provide the full text of articles, on the Library's Electronic Resources & Databases web page.
5. Find internet resources
6. Evaluate what you find
See Scholarly Journals for suggestions on evaluating the authority and quality of the material you located. If you have found too many or too few sources, you may need to narrow or broaden your topic. Check with a reference librarian or your instructor.
7. Cite what you find using a standard format
Format the citations to all of the references in your bibliography using one of the standard formats: MLA, ALA, Chicago, Turabian, or Scientific. See your instructor if you are not certain which format should be used. For examples of print and electronic sources in each style, see the Nimitz Library's Citing Your Sources.
- Work from the general to the specific Find background information first, then use more specific and recent sources.
- Record what you find and where you find it. Write out a complete citation for each source you find and print out the Web page, or e-mail to yourself; you may need it again later.
- Translate your topic into the subject language of the indexes and catalogs you use. Check your topic words against a thesaurus or subject heading list.
- Be organized, purposeful, and resilient.
- Use boolean logic when searching Seperate search terms using boolean logic to broaden or narrow your search.
You may want to consult as well:
- Nimitz Library's Citing Your Sources
- USNA Academic Center;
- USNA Writing Center; and
- The Library's Avoiding Plagiarism pages.
For help in clarifying your topic or ideas about where to look next, or to be sure you're using a reference source effectively Ask A Librarian.
Adapted with permission from Library Research tutorial from the Division of Reference Services, Olin Kroch Uris Libraries, Cornell University Library.
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