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DIY: Research Help

A continually evolving suite of research help content focused on helping you navigate the research process.

Where to begin?

Man asking "I have a topic. How do I find resources?"

Before diving in, take a moment to think about your assignment and your topic to identify your information needs.

​​Check your assignment and rubric

  • Identify any requirements set by your professor relating to the types of sources or currency of sources.
  • Do you need to gear what you write or create towards a specific audience?

Assess what you know about the topic

Unless you are an expert on the topic, you often need to learn more about it before you can create a research question, develop key words to use as search terms, or begin searching for sources to use in your paper/project. Start your search by looking for background information.

Identify the type of information sources you need or might want to use

There are so many different types of sources (books, scholarly articles, news articles, documentaries, primary, secondary...) available to you that it can be overwhelming. Identifying your information needs will help determine the type of sources that will provide the best type of information to help you complete your assignment, paper or project. Knowing the type of source you need will then guide you to where you want to look for that information: library databases, the Internet, an archive or special collection, et cetera.

Develop a search strategy  

Take a few minutes to plan your search strategy. It may save you a lot of frustration!


Background Information

Before you can start any research on your topic, you must have a background knowledge about your topic. Books, reference sources, and websites can provide you with that knowledge.

This is important because:

  1. Background sources give you the language that people are using to discuss your topic. You will use this language when you start to search databases for scholarly articles and resources on the topic.
  2. This "pre-research" gives you a sense if your topic is focused enough. If your initial searches bring back so many results you can't even figure out what the language people are using to discuss your topic, then you should consider narrowing your topic.

Remember, background information is always a starting point for research, not an ending point.

Wikipedia Yes, it is OK to use Wikipedia for background information, but never cite to it. And only use it as a starting point.

Library resources to use to find background information:

Identify Keywords

Before you can begin searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Key terminology can be easily be found by scanning:

  • Your research questions
  • Articles found from background research
  • Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles

If you are still struggling:

  • Use a thesaurus to identify synonyms.
  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe them.
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend.
  • Use a keyword generator.


Understanding Citations & Using Them to Find the Original Source

if you have a citation from your professor or from a footnote or a bibliography in another source, the citation should provide all the information you need to find it, even when it is in a citation style you don't know. A citation contains nuggets of information that usually identify:

  • Author/creator
  • Title
  • Publication/production information
    • Books will include the publisher and publisher's location
    • Articles will have a journal title and volume number. They may also have an issue number and page numbers.
  • Other information included changes depending on the type of source and the citation style used.
    • For instance books might have an editor listed, articles might have a DOI number, online documents and digital images might have a web address, etc.

You can use these nuggets to quickly track it down. Here are some citation examples and tips for quickly checking to see if we have it:

Article citations - Identify the title of the Journal, then use our Journal Locator Tool to see if we have it. (Using the Journal Locator Tool). Below is an APA and an MLA citation for the same article showing where you will find the journal title and other nuggets of information.


Image of an APA article citation.

Image of an MLA article citation.

Book citations - Identify the title of the book and type it into the Library Catalog's search box or our Resource Search box on the library's home page. Below is an APA and an MLA citation for the same book showing where you will find the book title and other nuggets of information.


Image of APA book citation.

Image of MLA book citation.