Developing a Library
Library research begins when you need information to solve a problem, to fulfill an academic
assignment or for your own purposes.
- A research strategy is a plan of action that gives direction to your efforts, enabling you to conduct research systematically rather than haphazardly.
A plan of attack can help you stay focused, reduce frustration, enhance the quality of your
research and save you time in the long run.
Research is not just compiling a bibliography about a
Writing a research paper is not about cutting and pasting the work of others!
Research is about discovering new ideas, actively thinking about
and working with them.
You may use existing information, but should draw your own conclusions,
integrate your own original ideas into the finished product.
The suggested strategy
below is one possible guideline for conducting research that works well with any academic assignment,
and can be
modified to suit your needs.
Beginning the Library Research Process
Choose and Define Your Topic
Spend some time thinking about how to
formulate a reasonable topic from an area of general interest.
A professor might suggest a good research question or even give you an important article to read. You can immediately start to explore for more information by tracking down the
articles and publications listed as references in its bibliography.
Be sure you understand the assignment before you begin. If you have any doubts, write down what you think you need to
do and discuss it with your instructor to confirm that you're on target.
Feeling stuck? Please consult our
research guide to Constructing
a search statement, or ask your instructor or a librarian
for help refining your topic.
Get Background Information
Become familiar with the
ideas, major concepts and basic vocabulary in your chosen research
area. Such background knowledge places your topic in a wider context, deepens your understanding and helps you feel more comfortable with it.
Remember: Encyclopedias are good starting points, but dont contain ALL the information you'll need on a
subject for college level research.
- Encyclopedias are a great place to get an overview of a topic that is new to you.
Encyclopedias often identify narrower areas within the broad subject, which may suggest a focus for your research. Many
encyclopedia article entries also provide a list of
references that can help you locate further,
more in-depth and scholarly information sources.
- Work from general to specific.
If a general encyclopedia doesn't provide enough background information, continue your research with
focused subject encyclopedias. Subject encyclopedias like the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology or
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, can be very helpful.
- Subject dictionaries can help define any unfamiliar words and specialized terminology
when researching a new subject in specific disciplines. For example,
such resources include
Dictionary of Sociology, The Social Work Dictionary, A Feminist
Dictionary and A Dictionary of Psychology.
Sources are generally categorized as being either records of what happened (primary), or reports and commentary compiled after the fact (secondary).
Primary sources include eyewitness accounts published in newspapers, thoughts and feelings recorded in diaries and letters,
documented interviews or oral histories, and data collected in the census.
- Published material by prominent people, such as The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln or
The Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., are also considered primary material.
Secondary sources offer commentary written about events "after the
fact." Most published
information (such as standard books and articles) falls into the
secondary source category.
- Additional sources of information may complement what you find in books and
include biographical sources, book reviews, statistics, geographical sources, essays, government
publications and video
documentaries. Statistical, geographical and other factual materials can really help to "make your case"
by substantiating your points and arguments.
Tips for finding sources:
- During your research, pursue any useful footnotes,
headings and keywords you find along the way. A good bibliography will suggest additional sources;
conducting a search using the subject headings and keywords from one helpful item may
lead you to others.
- Search for other works written by the same
author(s). Scholars often become experts in a field and continue
publishing on that topic.
- Look at the book shelves nearby for
related works as you gather your information. Selective browsing often reveals materials that your systematic searches may have missed.
- Evaluate your source material at every point during the research
process. Make sure that it adequately addresses your topic.
Get Publication Information Down!
When you find useful information resources, be sure to write down, print,
download or photocopy the publication information, or consider emailing the citations
and articles to yourself, whatever procedures
work best for you.
- Make sure to record the source of the information, including the
date and publication data (author, title, url,
publisher, etc.). You must have this information in order to prepare your bibliography.
For more about citing electronic and traditional information
link to our Ramsey Guide to Citing
- Stay focused and use critical thinking to judge the quality,
quantity and appropriateness of information. Don't stress out. If you get
lost in information overload, ask a reference librarian to help
- Stay on Topic:
Ask yourself, "Does my research focus connect logically with my topic and fulfill the requirements of the assignment? Does the information I'm finding match my
- Quantity of Information:
Keep the final product length in mind while investigating your topic. The amount of material
needed for a five-minute speech or a three-page paper is obviously much less than for
a fifteen-page document.
- Appropriateness of Information:
Determine the intended audience for your work and gather material written for that audience. Ask
for every source, "Is it too simplistic, too advanced, too
technical or just right for my topic?"
- Synthesize Your Information
Get organized in order to synthesize and integrate the information you've gathered into your own intellectual product.
- Evaluate Your Work
After completing your synthesized project, evaluate your successes and
difficulties. Identify procedures you might change or improve, because without a doubt, you'll
need to do more research throughout your school career.
- Keep in mind that you may need resources and materials not held in Ramsey Library.
Allow yourself enough time to get materials from ASU or WCU through
ABC Express (which takes two or three
days), or from other libraries through
Loan (which can take up to two weeks).
- Research often revolves around an unfamiliar topic, so you may
need plenty of time to educate yourself.