Getting Started With Research
This module covers why information literacy skills matter and how to get started with a research project, including understanding the process, choosing a topic, and beginning research.
Find learning objectives, standards addressed, discussion topics, & activity ideas here
The first step toward a successful research paper is selecting a topic that is neither too broad nor too narrow.
If you have the freedom to choose your own topic, be sure to choose a topic that will sustain your interest. Additionally, the topic should be one you can research sufficiently in the time allowed, research using the tools and resources readily available to you, read about in a language you read well, and that your professor deems suitable for your assignment.
Start with a broad topic area (this might already be decided for you as a requirement of a course) and narrow this down to select a specific topic for your paper so that you don’t waste time wading through too much information.
When deciding upon a topic, remember these three rules:
Deciding on a topic you'd like to write about and defining the parameters of your research is one of the most challenging and important aspects of the research process. If you need more help with this step, consult your professor or look for ideas in the research guides which have been prepared by the subject librarians.
Do you have a topic but don't know how or where to start researching it?
It's ok! You don't need to be an expert on a topic to do a report about it.
Review your class assignment, looking for keywords or terms that can help you define your topic. Use these keywords to search the library catalogs and databases. Also note what types of sources your instructor requires, for example: book chapters, newspaper articles, magazine articles, or peer-reviewed journal articles.
A good place to start (especially if you don't know much about your topic), is the Library Catalog to help you find books that give you general information. Encyclopedias are good for concise explanations and contextual data. A librarian can recommend the best encyclopedias or other reference materials you may want to use.
Build on your basic information and skills. Avail yourself to information in all formats: Books (on the shelves and online); Periodicals (journal, magazine, newspaper articles both on the shelves and through databases); Digital media (videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc.); and even some Internet sites.
Your professor will tell you whether you are allowed to use Web sites as resources. Most people can surf the Internet and find topical information but cannot determine if what they've found is accurate, objective or up-to-date. You can learn how to analyze Web site content by using our Website Evaluation Checklist.
For assistance on developing the most efficient research strategy and identification of local resources, contact a reference librarian at the library or via Ask Us.