Research Getting Started

Library Jargon Defined

The Eleven Step Research Strategy

Step 1: Choose a research topic

The following can help:

  • Readings for your class and your notes on these readings
  • Your in- and out-of-class writing, where you might touch on ideas or questions you want to explore further
  • A research journal, where you write and reflect on your research questions and interests—and how these questions and interests possibly change in the course of your research
  • Encyclopedias: general ones such as  Encyclopedia Britannica Online or subject-specific ones such as Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • CQ Researcher Online or  Opposing Viewpoints: contain information on current social issues and hot topics

Step 2: Turn your research topic into a question

Topic: C of C’s Convocation Ceremony

Questions: When did it start?  Why?  Who initiated it?  How has the ceremony changed over time? How does it compare to convocation ceremonies at other colleges and universities?  What impression does it give students of college and college life?  How does this picture compare to that incoming students (both locally and nationally) have of college?

Step 3: Identify keywords, and think of synonums and related concepts. When necessary structure your search using boolean connectors AND, OR, & NOT.

Use the Search Help tab in the library catalog for tips on using your keywords, boolean connectors, etc. to search for articles and books.

Step 4: Find an overview and background information on your topic

The following can help:

  • Reference Universe A comprehensive index to over 4,500 titles from 395 publishers provides access to widely held print and electronic reference works, including subject encyclopedias and monographs.
  • Oxford Reference Online: database of hundreds of encyclopedias and dictionaries from one of the most respected academic publishers.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Online
  • Numerous print subject encyclopedias: most are located in the reference collection on the first floor of the library.
  • Wikipedia: can also be a useful resource if used judiciously and double checked against other sources.

Be sure to use the bibliography at the end of encyclopedia entries.  This is a good, easy way to find additional information on your topic.

Step 5: Find books on your topic

Use the Books tab in this guide to access the catalogs for the Addelestone Library and for other libraries.  Use the Search Help tab for tips on conducting your search.

Step 6: Find articles on your topic

Use the Articles tab in this guide to access the article databases.  Use the Search Help tab for tips on conducting your search.

Step 7: Find web sites on your topic

Use the Web Sites tab in this guide for assistance in finding accurate and reliable web sites.

Step 8: Evaluate what you have found

Use the criteria listed on your assignment and resources listed in the Evaluation tab in this guide for assistance on evaluating sources.  In your notes or research journal, reflect on how you plan to use the sources you’ve found.  For example, you might use a source to support a point you wish to make, but you might also use a source to provide background information, give an overview of the discussion surrounding the topic, or establish a counterpoint you wish to refute.

Step 9: Keep track of what information came from what source

When taking notes, make sure to write down a full citation for each source.  This makes writing and citing much easier, and helps you avoid plagiarism.

Step 10: Draw from your notes to narrow your questions and draft your paper

In the process of taking notes or keeping a research journal, you may come up with a working thesis that you can begin to develop in your paper.  Or, if you’re not yet sure of your thesis, you might draw from your notes and begin your draft by writing what others have said about your topic, which can help you figure out where you stand in this conversation.  Even though this is listed as Step 10, don’t delay writing your draft until you’ve located all your sources.  Whether you know it or not, you’re likely starting to write your draft as you take notes or keep a journal.  And there are always going to be more sources out there for you to locate.  So start drawing from your notes to draft your paper as you continue to conduct research.

Step 11: Remember that you will likely need to do more research as you revise your paper

When writing the draft of your paper, you might find that your original thesis or research questions change.  Your instructor and other readers may make comments or ask questions that prompt you to locate additional sources.  Your research isn’t done until you hand in the final draft of your paper (and it may not even be done then!), so leave yourself time to continue your research as you draft and revise your paper.

This list was adapted with permission from:
Reference Department Dominican University & Collections, Reference, Instruction & Outreach (CRIO) Cornell University Library Ithaca, NY, USA
Note: Use the College of Charleston’s library resources (catalog, databases, etc.), not Cornell’s!

Research Guide
Reference Sources Online

Library Jargon Defined