Researching Your Topic
After you choose a topic for a research paper or class project, you are ready to search for the best information to help you complete your assignment. This guide will help you find resources in the library and online, evaluate their quality and accuracy, and put them to use in your assignment and bibliography.
A good first step in research is to find some background information about your topic. Look for information about people, places, events and ideas related to your topic. Use this information to search for better in-depth information from books and articles in the library and online. Useful sources of general information include:
Encyclopedias and General Information Websites
Use these sources to find basic information about your main topic and any related ideas.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Use Britannica to find brief articles, videos, images and links to academic articles and online resources.
- Gale Virtual Reference Library: GVRL has a wide range of online encyclopedias, with an easy-to-use search page.
- Wikipedia: Wikipedia is an easy-to-use website with articles on almost any topic imagineable. Because there is no guarantee of its accuracy, double-check all information you find and do not cite it as a resource.
Magazines and Blogs
Magazines and blogs have easy-to-read articles that can give you a basic understanding of your topic and related issues. Use the guides below to search for magazine articles about your topic.
To find blog articles, use a search engine (like Google) to search for blog articles on your topic, but be careful to evaluate the reliability and objectivity of the author. Most blogs have a very distinct point of view and will present information to support their own ideas.
Research events related to your topic that are currently happening in the world. This will make your assignment more interesting and relevant. Learn about current events related to your topic in newspapers and online news sources.
- Proquest Newspapers: Newspaper article database with full-text articles from thousands of newspapers and other news sources. Includes major titles such as the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and local newspapers such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Online News Sources
There are many online sources for current news. These are two suggested resources, but be sure to search (usually in Google) for other sources that are relevant to your topic. Also, make sure they are objective and accurate (see the section about Evaluating Resources below).
- BBC News: BBC News is an excellent source for world news stories. It also includes helpful country guides including history, politics, demographics, and links to current news stories about a nation.
- New York Times Online: The New York Times online news site includes current information about U.S. and World News. There is a limit for how many articles you can read in this online version, so also use Proquest Newspapers (above) to read articles from the New York Times.
Scholarly Papers and Articles
Scholarly articles and research papers are the best source for current, well-researched information about a topic. Articles come from many sources: Academic journals, conference papers, dissertations, and more. The most important thing is to evaluate the information to make sure it is objective, accurate, and recent enough to still be valid for your topic (see the section about Evaluating Resources below).
- Academic Search Premier: Largest database of articles from peer-reviewed journals and magazines in academic disciplines.
- ATLA Religion Database: ATLA Religion Database is the premier index to journal articles, book reviews, and collections of essays in all fields of religion.
- Digital Commons Network: Digital Commons Network is a worldwide repository of scholarly works, including articles, book chapters, theses, dissertations and more. You can explore by topic using their innovative graphic search tool or search for your topic by keyword.
- Library Databases list: Choose a database by topic.
- Online Resources: This guide links to online databases that provide access to free articles, books and many other types of resources.
Dissertations and Theses
- Finding dissertations and theses online: This guide links to dissertation databases and to major universities that provide access to their student’s papers and reports.
Books on your topic can be found in many ways, from physical books in our local library collection, to ebooks in our library databases, to books freely available online.
Graham Library Collection
Requesting Books From Other Libraries
If you need to read a book not in our collection, and you need to read it now, there is a chance you can get at least a glimpse of it online. Or, if you can’t find what you need in our library catalog, try using one of the many excellent open digital libraries online.
- Google books: Google Books is a good place to go to find either a partial or full-text view of online books. This is a good way to determine if a book has the information that you need before you request it through Interlibrary Loan. Just search your book title in the Google Books homepage.
- Digital libraries: This guide links to online digital libraries, which are collections made available by universities and libraries from around the world. Use them to find unique or historical information that you can’t find in our library catalog or databases.
Once you find resources on your topic, it’s important to evaluate if the resource is accurate, fair and scholarly. Evaluate whether the item is:
How can I tell if my resource is scholarly or popular?
- Does it include good citations and footnotes? Scholarly resources, including both books and articles, will have excellent works cited pages or bibliographies at the end of the work. Many will also have notes on the bottom of the main pages, known as footnotes.
- How often is it published? Because it takes time to research, write and publish good quality research articles, scholarly journals are often only published two or three times a year. So if the source is published monthly, it is probably not scholarly.
- What are the author’s qualifications? If you can, review the qualifications of the author. Do they have an advanced degree in the subject? You can often find this information at the top of a scholarly article or on the first or last pages of a book.
- Is it peer-reviewed? Peer-reviewed means that someone else in the field checked the accuracy of the content before it was published. Most scholarly books are edited and peer-reviewed before they are published. To determine if a journal is peer-reviewed, open the information page of an article. On that page, click the title of the journal to link to a page of information about the journal, including whether or not it is peer-reviewed. You can also just limit your search to only scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles.
How do I know if my item is still relevant?
- How old is the work? Some subjects, such as history and philosophy, do not need to use very recent information. Other subjects, such as science and medicine, require that you try to find the most up-to-date information possible about your subject. If a work is very old, review it to see if the information still seems relevant.
- How do I know if my item is biased or objective? Review the tone of language of the work. Do they seem to be addressing both sides of the issue? Are they presenting information in a fair and honest way? It is easy to make graphs and charts point to a misleading fact. Review them carefully.