Defining | Identifying | Narrowing | Searching | Evaluating | Citing | Ask
Defining Your Topic
Identifying the Type of Information You Need
Finding Overviews and Narrowing Your Topic
An effective way to start your research is with a source that presents an overview and identifies specific issues to help you narrow your topic. This will enable you to focus your topic while providing valuable background information for continuing your research. The following print and online sources will provide background information and topic overviews and help you to narrow your research.
Once you have identified a topic and the issues you plan to focus on, you may find it necessary to clarify certain aspects (people, places, terminology) before continuing your research. Reference books (subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks) are valuable for this purpose and can sometimes provide more detailed information than available on the Internet. Reference sources often include overviews or historical perspectives, define special terms, and identify key events, dates or people related to your topic. (The Reference collection, located on the main floor of the library, is searchable through the library Catalog.) Some examples of reference books: Social Issues in America; A Companion to Applied Ethics; Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather.
The library subscribes to online databases that are helpful in finding overviews and narrowing your topic:
CQ Researcher is a weekly publication that covers a broad spectrum of topics, often controversial. Each week focuses on a particular topic and typically includes an overview, background, historical timeline, pro/con arguments, and more.
Opposing Viewpoints In Context is a "one-stop" resource for information on controversial issues. The database provides access to pro/con viewpoints, topic overviews, statistics, links to websites, and full-text articles from magazines, journals and newspapers.
Gale eBooks is a collection of online reference books for multi-disciplinary research. It provides access to topic overviews and in-depth information on a variety of subjects.
Searching for Sources
Academic Search Complete, Gale Academic OneFile and US Major Dailies.
Evaluating Your Sources
Organize the resources you have found to make sure that you have enough information and that the sources are relevant to your topic. Use a critical eye to evaluate the information you find. Some criteria to consider include:
Date of Publication
Citing Your Sources
As your research progresses, be sure to keep a detailed list of all sources you intend to use in your paper. You will need this information for the "in-text citations" and bibliography or "Works Cited" list to document your research. The works cited list includes a citation for each source used to write your paper. The citation format is in a consistent style according to one of several standard citation formats. Two of the most common formats for college research papers are the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychological Association) styles. Always check with your instructors for format and citation requirements. Sample citations and information regarding when and why to cite sources are available on the library website.
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