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Research Tips: Research Tips - Getting Started

Information Literacy & Research Skills

The research process usually involves five broad steps. These steps are directly related to the skills of an information literate individual. Information literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.

Often you will complete one step before moving to the next, but there may be times when you will need to return to a previous step or complete multiple steps simultaneously.  

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Getting Started

  1. Define your topic. Begin by brainstorming and writing down what you know about your topic. Note any questions (or things you need to find out) about your topic. When selecting a topic, avoid topics that are too broad or too narrow.  Topics that are too broad will be difficult to research because you will be overwhelmed with information and may have a difficult time sorting through everything.  If you discover that your topic is too broad, try focusing on a narrower aspect of the topic. If your topic is too narrow it will be difficult to locate enough information on the topic.

  2. Do background reading. A good place to begin is in a general or subject encyclopedia. This reading will help you identify keywords, concepts, people, places, etc. related to your topic. If you need assistance identifying appropriate sources for background reading consult with a librarian.  You can schedule an appointment by clicking here.

  3. Divide your topic into concepts. Once you have chosen a topic and done background reading, break your topic down into concepts and think of keywords and phrases for each concept.  Think of your topic in general and specific terms and write them down. The terms you generate can be used to create search expressions which will help you locate materials in the library catalogs, databases, and on the web. For help with this see the Search Strategy Builder developed by University of Arizona Library.

  4. Write your thesis statement and/or research question. This handout from the Center for Writing Excellence (CWE) can help.  If you have questions about developing a thesis statement schedule an appointment  with a CWE consultant.  To make an appointment click here.

  5. Locate sources on your topic. Appropriate sources might include books, periodical (magazine, newspaper, and journal) articles, websites, government documents, audio-visual materials, and interviews. Regardless of the type of source you use, you should always evaluate every source.  For tips on source credibility click here. For tips on database searching click here.  If you need assistance locating sources consult with a librarian - this can save you time and frustration.  You can schedule an appointment by clicking here. 

  6. Record your references as you go.  It is much easier to record the citation information when you first locate a potential source than it is to go back and try to find the same source later. 

  7. Keep a research log of where you searched (names of databases, search engines, etc.) the terms you used, and what you found. This will keep you from duplicating work if you are completing your research in stages. 

Top Ten Things to Know about Finding Information

10. Don’t wait till the last moment to start your research!
Research is a long and involved process. If we don’t have something you need, we can probably get it for you elsewhere, but not instantly - so plan accordingly. See Interlibrary Loan for more information.

9. Research is a word game.
Try various techniques to improve the accuracy of your searches: use AND and OR to combine groups of search terms, truncation (wild card searching), phrase searching, search limiters, etc. Use the Search Strategy Builder developed by the University of Arizona Library to help construct good searches.

8. Google/Google Scholar doesn’t have everything.
Hard to imagine, but Google only provides access to a fraction of 1% of what’s “out there” on the web. Learn to use other tools to find information that’s “invisible” to Google.

7. Use Advanced Search features.
Many databases include “Advanced Searching.” By using it, you can quickly and easily improve the accuracy of your searches—and have fewer but higher quality search results.

6. A lot of things aren’t online at all.
Collier Library alone—to say nothing of other libraries in Alabama and elsewhere—has thousands of books, articles, documents, videos, etc. that aren’t online. Anywhere. Visit us; we’ll help you find ‘em.

5. Use Wikipedia—and other encyclopedias—carefully.
Encyclopedias can be great places to get beginning background info, and for references to major books, articles, etc. on a topic. But they’re usually not something you can use as one of your sources for a paper or other project.

4. Evaluate! Evaluate! Evaluate!
Don’t believe everything you read. Or see. Or hear. It’s up to you to determine if the information you are using is reliable or not. Librarians can help with this, too!

3. Research is not a straight line.
It's a process, a spiral, an evolution. One piece of new information can take you back to places you've already been. You may need to change course, even reverse direction from time to time.

2. Find more sources than you think you’ll need.
Some sources that you’ll find just won’t work for your research needs. But, if you collect “extra” sources at the beginning, you probably won’t have to backtrack and re-do your searches later.

1. Ask a Librarian!
Don’t let the frustration level build up too much before you ask for help: In person (at the Reference Desk). Phone (256-765-4469). Text (256-373-5235), Online. or Make an appointment.

Developing a Search Strategy

Try this search strategy builder from the University of Arizona Library to help build a search that you can use when searching the UNA Libraries databases:

Search Strategy Builder