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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.