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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 get specific as you research and identify new information.

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!

First: Gather Background Information

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

Credo Reference

Oxford Bibliographies

Oxford Reference

Wikipedia (yes, it is OK to use Wikipedia to gather ideas and names in order to start your research)​​​

As you find background material, keep a list of terms and keywords, which will be helpful to when searching for scholarly articles.

Try using a worksheet, or a mind map, to keep track of related terms for your research, like this one:

Next Step: Find Books

Once you have a foundation of concepts, people, ideas, etc. from reference sources, start searching for books.

Finding books first can give you a good idea of scope for your paper. For instance, if a whole book has been written on your topic, you will need to make your topic much more specific (after all, nobody wants to write in 15 pages what someone else had 300 pages to do).

Go to the next page (Find Books) for specific advice on how to find books at Yale Library.

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