Research Tips

How you conduct research in the library depends on your information need. The reference librarians can assist you in finding the best sources to fulfill that need, but it helps to ask yourself the following questions:

What information do you need?
(For example, if you are writing a paper about Ethiopia, do you want to talk about history, current politics, customs, religion, the biology of coffee plants ...?)
How are you going to use the information?
(For example, you might want to give a presentation in class which will require pictures or graphs. You may be participating in a debate and need to argue in favor of a particular position, such as opposing gun control.)
How much information do you want?
(Enough for a paragraph, or a twenty-page paper?)
What do you know already about the topic?
(This can help point to other sources of information.)
How specialized does the information need to be?
(For example, do you need general information on the effects of alcohol on the body or technical information about its effect on catabolism of adenine nucleotides in the liver?)


When you find some material, you will want to evaluate it. Here are some questions you can ask:

When was it published?
(In science, technical fields, and current events, it's important to find recent material.)
What kind of source is it?
(For example, in periodicals, popular magazines are written in everyday language, often have many attractive illustrations, and do not include a list of references. Scholarly journals are written in technical language, often have titles including words like "Journal of ..." or "Proceedings of ... ," and usually include a list of references at the end of the article.) For more on source types, see Sources of information to impress (or appall) your instructor
What are the author's qualifications?
(How likely is the author to be an expert in the field? An article about psychology authored by the head of a major university's psych department carries more weight than one written by a newspaper reporter.)
What are the publisher's and author's reputations?
(Does your knowledge about the author, publisher, or place of publication suggest that the material may be strongly biased or poorly researched?)

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Updated: 12 March 2012