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The 5 Minute Guide to
LIBRARY RESEARCH

John Lewis

While it is impossible to explain the whole process of library research in five minutes, this article will at least provide a quick overview of how and where to start the research process. The most important advice is to consult a reference librarian if you are confused. Reference librarians use library resources every day and can give you advice on what databases to use and tips on the best keywords to search under. The following nine steps are a useful guide when using the library. You may not have to perform all nine steps for your assignment, but they will get you started on the right path.

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Start early.
  3. Get general information on the topic.
  4. Search for books on the topic.
  5. Search for journal/magazine articles on the topic.
  6. Search specialized sources for information on the topic.
  7. Keep track of where the information is from for use in bibliographies and footnotes.
  8. Evaluate the information found.
  9. Write the paper.

Choosing a topic:

Sometimes this is the most difficult part of the research process! You need to have at least a general idea of what topic you want to research before you can get started. It is quite possible you may broaden or narrow your topic after you start the research process. Still you at least need a starting point.

Start early:

It is important to start the research process as early as possible. Research is a time consuming process. It may be necessary to visit the library several times. Also getting material from other libraries often takes several weeks.

Get general information on your topic:

If you are already familiar with your topic then you can omit this step. If not you need to learn more about your topic before you can begin your research. There are several good methods of doing this. One is using an encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia Britannica. Another is doing some quick searching on the Internet using Ask Jeeves or Google. Print reference books often provide a good summary of a topic.

Get books on your topic:

You may decide not to use books at all and use only journal articles. However, it is probably a good idea to at least scan a few books on your topic. They can give you further ideas for research and often contain useful bibliographies. Books are found using the library catalog. The HELIN catalog contains McKillop Library holdings as well as the holdings of other academic libraries. You can limit your search to just the Salve library if you wish. Holdings from other libraries can be obtained within forty-eight hours by using the request a book function.

Get journal/magazine articles on your topic:

The first place to search for articles is a full-text general periodical database such as EBSCOhost. You should be able to find articles on any topic in Proquest. Don't stop here though. The library also has many subject specific databases which will contain even more information on your topic. For instance, if your topic is in the area of education you should also consult the ERIC database. Databases are broken down by subject area on the McKillop Library database page. If you aren't sure which databases to use ask a reference librarian.

Search specialized sources for information on your topic:

You may not need to perform this step. However, for many topics sources such as government documents, audio or videocassettes, and newspapers can be excellent sources of information.

Keep track of information:

When you write your paper you will need to cite where the information came from in footnotes and the bibliography. Using information without proper citations is plagiarism! Proper citation is much easier if you keep track of where you got the information while performing research. Always note which database you searched, the name of the journal, the date or issue, the author, title and pages. If you use the Internet copy down the URL, title, author and date searched. It is much more difficult to come back and get this information later. Often times it is impossible especially with Internet sources.

Evaluate the information:

Once your research is complete you need to evaluate what you have found. Not everything turned up during the research process is valuable. Information could be biased, out of date, or just plain wrong. This is especially true with information gathered from the Internet. If an article or book disagrees with the vast majority of the literature consider carefully whether it is reliable enough to use in your paper. You may also need to use only scholarly articles as sources. The handout How to Find Scholarly Articles can help you with that process.

Write your paper!

Ask at the Reference Desk, call (401) 341-2289, or submit a question online if you need assistance.



Send comments or questions to Olga Verbeek, Library Webmaster, at verbeeko@salve.edu.
Revised: November, 2001