PART TWO--Research Paper, Getting Started

What tools do I use to find information?

  • Librarians -- Your best bet for getting started and saving time. Desk on 2nd Floor North or 251-460-7025, or email or chat.
  • SOUTHcat Catalog -- this tells you what the USA Libraries own--books, films, which magazines, newspapers and journals and where it is
  • Articles, Indexes, Databases -- what exists in periodical literature: academic journals, magazines and newspapers.
  • Internet -- often supplementary, unpublished, and often unverified & often disorganized information--though sometimes a great source of information. Use Advanced searching to get better results (limit by domain, eg. edu, gov, org, etc.)

What is this assignment? This is the most important thing you can do!!!!!!

Read the assignment carefully THREE times. This is the most important part--if you don't understand SOMETHING, ask your instructor to elucidate and keep asking until it is totally clear!!! Here's a guide to deconstructing your professor's intentions.

If you are doing a research paper then. . . What general topic will I start exploring?

  • Pick a topic that is relevant to the course, but which also interests you.
  • Don't pick a topic only because you think your instructor will like it--this is the path to mindlessness.
  • Don't pick a topic that has been done a million times--it will certainly bore both you and your professor and may lead to the most grevious of academic sins--plagiarism.
  • Nothing interests you? Then look at some magazines and journals in the field and get an idea of something that MIGHT interest you. Also, get a life!
  • Here are some guides to finding a topic: Idea Generator.
  • Or try CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints(scroll down the alphabet) for current controversies.

Will it work? Would anybody care? Is it OK with my teacher?

  • Formulate an interesting question about your topic. Be sure that it is a real question and one worth your time thinking about for several weeks.
  • Explore the question a little bit to be sure that it is a workable idea for an academic paper--not too easy, but not so complex that it will bury you.
  • Do a quick search of an encyclopedia, the catalog and a general index like Gale/InfoTrac's Expanded Academic ASAP or EBSCO's Academic Search Premier to see what kind of information is published on the topic. (see below for instructions on using the computers to do this).
  • Initial searching may give you other ideas about the direction and focus of your research question.
  • If you find too much material, you may have to focus on some aspect of your topic and make your question more specific.
  • If you don't find enough material, you may have to broaden your perspective.
  • Check with your professor about your topic. You don't want to spend and any of your precious time on a topic which he/she might disapprove.
  • Remember, if the assignment calls for a controversial topic, pick one with at least two legitimate points-of-view, not something like serial murderers or child abuse.

What sources have the kind of information I need?

  • 1. When you talk to your professor about your possible topic, ask him/her about where to go to find info on this topic. Don't want to talk to your teacher? Afraid? GET OVER IT! As experts in a field of study, your instructor is the first person you should ask for help.
  • 2. The second person you should visit is the reference librarian at the reference desk in the library. Explain your research problem and ask them for a list of sources that you should use. Ask them which one to start with and then where to go from there. Go back often for more guidance--they are your lifeline!
  • What you will need are:
    1. Encyclopedias--general and specialized for background, issues, important names, jargon, historical overview. Click here for a short demo on how to use the Catalog to find encyclopedias and reference books. Also use Electronic Reference Sources to find other reference books like dictionaries,handbooks, directories, manuals for vocabulary, dates, people, quotes, addresses, statistics, rules, laws, citation styles.
    2. Regular Books for broad or narrow coverage of one topic, comprehensive, critical examination, with bibliography. Use the SouthCAT catalog to find books.
    3. Use Academic journal articles for detailed, focused, up-to-date research, criticism & technical information, with a bibliography. Two general databases to start with areEbsco's Academic Search Premier and InfoTrac's Expanded Academic ASAP. Limit to peer-reviewed journals. Click here for the 7 steps to finding articles in our databases.
    4. Next check out subject-specific indexes organized by general subject area or in a title list also under "Article, Indexes, Databases" (scroll down) to see if there is an index appropriate for a specialized topic. (The reference librarian can be a big help choosing the right index!) NEED HELP using indexes? Just call, email or chat!
    5. Articles from magazines of opinion for current political and cultural information, book/movie reviews, editorials and articles from news magazines for news articles, human interest stories, features, book and movie reviews. Try Ebsco's Masterfile Premier or InfoTrac's OneFile.
    6. Get articles from newspapers for most recent news articles and primary reports of an event, editorials, reviews, features in Lexis-Nexis or Ebsco's Newspaper Source.
    7. For articles from trade journals with detailed info relating to a particular job or career, job ads, product ads, how-tos in a particular job and for "how to" articles in check out Lexis-Nexis and change the Results Group menu to "magazines &journals" and Industry Trade Press.
    8. Use the Internet, public WWW for miscellaneous, unpublished info, unorganized and often of dubious quality, federal, state, local info, genealogy, poems, quotations, odd facts and almost anything else you can think of use a good search engine like Google Advanced Search or Yahoo Advanced Search where you can limit your searches to the more trustworthy domains like .gov or .edu. Be sure you know how to evaluate websites before including them in you research papers.

If you are writing a long paper, chances are that you will need information from ALL of these resources.


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call (251) 460-6045 or e-mail Jan Sauer.
Last updated: 11/25/08. js
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