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Essential Library Research Skills: Research a Topic

Getting Started

Your best bet when beginning a new research paper is to start general and work your way more specific.

For example, for a 5-10 page paper your research question will need to be more specific than you might think! A good rule is that if a whole book has been written on your topic, then you should get more specific.

If you would like help on finding resources within a specific discipline, go to:

Ask Yale Library

Find answers to common questions, discover solutions to common problems, and more!

Step 1: Gather Background Information

Reference works (encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries) are great for getting background information. Try these reference databases:

As you find background material, keep a list of terms and keywords -- these keywords will be helpful to use later when you search for scholarly articles. Keeping a list of terms is also helpful for when you need to find alternate terms or synonyms.

Tip: Try using a worksheet to keep track of related terms for your research. Creating a "mind map" of your research topic can be a really useful tool to get you started and to help you identify terms to search in the library catalog and databases.

Step 2: Find Books

Start your research by searching for books in the library catalog. Use the keywords you found in reference sources to search for books.

Pro-tip: Once you have found at least ONE relevant book in the library catalog, look at the linked subjects in the catalog record. When you click a linked subject, the library catalog will retrieve all the other books on that same topic.

Go to the next page (Find Books) to get specific advice on using the library catalog to find books.

Image Citations

From the Noun Project: "Article" icon by Setyo Ari Wibowo, "Evidence" icon by Alina Oleynik.