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.
Step 1: Identify and Develop Your Topic
Express your research idea in the form of a question. Identify the main concepts in your statement.
Step 2: Find Background Information
Look up the main concepts in the indexes to general encyclopedias and subject-specific reference books. Read articles in these reference materials to set the context for your research. Note important key terms or phrases. Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles. Additional background information may be provided in your lecture notes, textbooks, and items on reserve.
Step 3: Use Catalogs to Find Books and Media
Perform Author searches under the names of people you have identified as authorities in the field. Perform Title searches for relevant books listed in the bibliographies you have found. Perform Keyword searches to identify other relevant books on your research topic. To find additional books, look at the Subject Headings in the bibliographic record and click on those terms which directly relate to the focus you have selected. Print or write down the citation (author, title, etc.) and the location information (call number and library). Note the circulation status. Verify the Library of Congress call number range for your subject and browse the selves for books in this area. Consider other libraries’ holdings.
Step 4: Use Indexes to Find Periodical Articles
Use electronic periodical indexes (aka databases) to find citations to articles. Choose the databases best suited to your subject area; ask a librarian if you need help figuring out which databases will be best. Perform Keyword or Advanced searches on your topic’s main concepts. Perform author searches under the names of people you have identified as authorities in the field. Adjust your search vocabulary by using the subject terms or keywords provided in articles that directly relate to the focus you have selected. If the full text is not linked in the database you are using, copy the citation from the database and search NSCC’s holdings for the title of the periodical in the NOBLE Catalog. If you are still not able to locate the periodical, use the Library’s Interlibrary Loan service.
Step 5: Find Internet Resources
Use search engines and subject directories to locate materials on the Web. The Internet is one of the fastest growing information resource channels available. Resources identified through an Internet search may number in the thousands, but they should be evaluated closely. Typically, Internet resources supplement, rather than duplicate, what you find through your library research.
Step 6: Evaluate What You Find
An important part of the research process is evaluating the authority and quality of the books, articles, and Internet sources 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 if you need assistance with this.
Step 7: Cite What You Find Using a Standard Format
Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources. Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves two purposes, it gives proper credit to the authors of the materials used, and it allows those who are reading your work to duplicate your research and locate the sources that you have listed as references.
Knowingly representing the work of others as your own is plagiarism. Use the MLA or APA style or another style approved by your instructor.
Adapted with permission. Reference Department: Collections, Reference, Instruction & Outreach, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA.