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VVC Library: Research Tips

Your Bridge To Academic Success

Research Tips: Getting Started

Tip #1: Do Not Begin Your Research With The Internet!
Students often begin their research with an Internet search that produces an overwhelming number of results and a feeling of frustration. Before beginning your research, it is useful to design a search strategy using the resources available to you in the library (both online and print). The steps outlined in this section to help you focus your research and locate relevant sources for writing your paper.

Steps To Getting Started

Defining | Identifying | Narrowing | Searching | Evaluating | CitingAsk

Defining Your Topic

  • What is your specific topic? Try to state it in the form of a question which will help you clarify your thoughts and define your topic.
  • If possible, try to find a topic that interests you.
  • Write down your topic and the related issues using keywords, phrases, or complete sentences.
  • Brainstorm, but try to be specific in identifying and narrowing your topic.

Identifying the Type of Information You Need

  • What types of information do you need -- books, scholarly journals, magazine articles, newspaper articles, or Internet sites?
  • How many sources do you need?
  • Do you need historical or current information?
  • What is the purpose of the assignment? Do you need to argue a position on a topic, expand your knowledge of a subject, provide comparative information or present different points of view?

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.

Reference Books:

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.

Online Databases:

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

  • Use the keywords that describe your topic to start your search for information.
  • Search the library Catalog for books, reference books, E-books, or DVDs in the library's collection.
  • Search the online Databases to locate articles in magazines, academic journals, newspapers and for E-books. The library subscribes to databases covering a variety of disciplines including art, biology, health, law, music, philosophy, politics, and religion. The primary, multidisciplinary databases for general research are:

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:


  • Who is the author?
  • Is the author a specialist in the field?


  • Is the information accurate and complete?
  • Is it consistent with other information you have found?


  • Does the source provide a neutral perspective of the topic or is it biased toward a particular point of view?
  • Was it produced in association with a special interest group?

Date of Publication

  • How current is the information?
  • Is current information important for your topic, or do you need historical information?


  • Is the source comprehensive for the topic?
  • Does it present multiple viewpoints?


  • Does the source include a table of contents, an index, or bibliography?
  • Does it include tables, charts, graphs, maps, illustrations or photographs to support the topic?

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.

Ask for Help!

  • If you need help finding additional sources of information or need assistance with the library's electronic resources, please ask at the Reference Desk. A reference librarian is available during all Open Hours.
  • If you have specific questions regarding writing a research paper or essay, the Writing Center staff is available to assist you.

What Else?