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English 114/115 - A Research Guide: 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:

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

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.

Try using a worksheet 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 works, you can start searching for books in the library catalog. A benefit of finding books first is they can give you an 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) to get specific advice on using the library catalog to find 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.

Image Citations

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