STEP 1--Choosing a topic.
Is there something that you want to know more about? Do you have a particular hobby or something you really like to do in your spare time? Have you read an article lately about a subject that intrigues you? Is there something in the news that interests you? Picking a topic that interests you will make doing the research more enjoyable!
If you're still having trouble selecting a topic, consider the following suggestions:
Hopefully, by now, you've found a topic that you're really excited about.
Narrowing your topic
If you picked a broad, general topic such as "terrorism" or "the environment" to write about, you probably need to narrow the focus of your research. If you looked up "terrorism" in the Academic Search Premier database, for instance, you'd find 59262 articles. Do you reallywant to look through 59262 articles about terrorism?
How do you narrow a topic? Begin by thinking of a particular issue or sub-topic associated with your topic. An example of narrower aspects of "terrorism" or "the environment" would be "psychological aspects of terrorism" or "global warming".
Having trouble thinking of a sub-topic? Go to the Reference Desk and ask to see theLibrary of Congress Subject Headings. Look under your topic and find the NT symbol. These are Narrower Topics. Glance through these terms for one that interests you.
You might also trying looking up your topic in the Academic Search Premier database. Be sure to do a "subject terms" search. Click on the term itself to see broader terms, narrower terms, or related terms. You will find your topic broken down into sub-topics.
Step 2--Finding Background Information
When you've chosen your topic begin by gathering background information. Background information will tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. It includes things like definitions of your topic, names of people who are authorities in the field, movements or dates, important facts, etc. Background information will also help you understand the relationship of your topic to other subjects, find subcategories and issues within the subject, and locate terminology associated with your topic. Start by:
Take advantage of the bibliographies at the end of articles, chapters, etc. in these books. Write down any useful sources such as books, journals, magazines, etc. These are usually excellent starting points for additional research.
Check periodical databases for magazine and journal articles. Keep in mind that the books or articles you find may also have bibliographies of other materials that will be useful in your research.
Step 3--Finding Information Sources
Before you begin writing a paper it helps to think about the kind and amount of information you will need. Do you need facts, statistics, laws, opinions, research or case studies, etc.? Do you need the latest information (science and technology topics) or the historical development of an issue (political, educational, or social topics)? Where will you find the information? In books, magazines, journals, newspapers, electronic databases, on the internet? Maybe you want to find an expert and interview him/her.
Make sure the resource fits the research.
Two basic kinds of sources used in researching a topic are:
Step 4--Evaluating What You Find
As you are gathering information for your paper, you will want to carefully evaluate what you find. This is true for all types of materials. Some questions you should ask yourself when you are evaluating a source are:
Scholarly journals usually contain footnotes or references, popular magazines don't.
Two basic kinds of resources on the internet are subscription databases and web pages . Subscription databases generally contain full text periodical and newspaper articles that can also be found in print. Evaluate them the same way you'd evaluate the printed source. Web pages can be posted by educational institutions, the government, organizations, businesses or individual people. It is helpful to know who has posted the web page when you are evaluating the material found there.
Step 5--Citing what you find
When you are gathering information for your paper, it is helpful to carefully record full citations to each source you use. It will save you time and frustration as you write your paper. Be sure you know what format your instructor requires. Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) are two of the most common. Others are: The Chicago Manual of Style, and The ACS Style Guide (American Chemical Society).
Where can I find style manuals and citation formats?