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Getting Started with Research: Home

Getting Started

This guide will help you get started with the research process and organize your results in order to manage the many steps involved in doing research.

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Need More Help?

Research can be a complex, lengthy, and sometimes intimidating process, but the Pearson Library can help. Librarians are always available to give you customized research suggestions, and you can find books and articles (print and online) via the Pearson Library web site.

Subject-Specific Research Assistance

Did you know that there's a librarian who specializes in helping students from your major? Contact your subject librarian for customized help.

Step 1: Understand the Assignment

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Identifying the amount and types of sources your assignment requires will help you choose the right online research tools. Before you begin developing a strategy for searching the library catalog and databases, you should clarify several things about the assignment:

 1. What type of assignment is it? (Research paper, essay, opinion paper, review, or other?)

2. How long does your paper need to be?

3. How many sources do you need for your bibliography?

4. What types of information do you need? (Statistics, Web pages, books, articles, images, audio/video clips, or other?)

5. Do you need current or historical sources? Or both?

 If you are unclear on any of the requirements, ASK YOUR PROFESSOR ASAP! Doing this early in the semester will save you stress later on and will show your professor that you are proactive. 



Step 2: Choose a Topic

Sometimes your topic is assigned by your professor. However, most of the time your professor will give you the freedom to choose your own research topic. Choosing a topic that is specific enough to be manageable without being too narrow can be difficult, but these steps can help.

First, think about what topics might be of interest to you. You can get ideas by skimming your textbook, reading news magazines like Time, or keeping an eye on the news.

Once you've identified a broad topic, looking at a few scholarly reference books (such as dictionaries and encyclopedias) can help you figure out which authors and sources are the most important to know about. Often a scholarly reference book will give you a short, authoritative overview of your topic and suggest additional sources for you to read. In essence, reading a reference article can save you time!

There are two easy ways to find reference material. First, try doing a keyword search of the CLU Library Catalog for your topic, limiting your search to our online Reference Resources. Second, try searching for your topic in an online reference database, such as Gale Virtual Reference Library or Oxford Reference Online.

Step 3: Develop a Research Question

After you've identified and narrowed a research topic, you should re-state it in the form of a research question. Phrasing your topic in the form of a question helps to direct your research process.

Asking whether a fact or statistic directly answers your research question can help you find the most relevant information for your topic. A good research question also leads to a direct answer in the form of a thesis.

A sample research question might be:
What are some strategies for improving employee retention among female law enforcement officers?

This question might lead to the following thesis in the final paper:
"Recommended strategies for improving employee retention among female law enforcement officers include: flexible benefits and scheduling, diversity training, and..."

Step 4: Identify Keywords

A good research question also helps you pull out the different concepts your research will cover. Our example, "What are some strategies for improving employee retention among female law enforcement officers?" has 3 distinct concepts:

  • Employee retention
  • Female
  • Law enforcement officers

These concepts will become the search keywords you will use in the Library Catalog and online article databases. Keep in mind that not every author will use the same keywords to describe a topic: one author might write about "police officers," and another might use the phrase "law enforcement officers."

For this reason, you will want to identify some synonyms and related terms for each of your keywords before you start searching. For example:

  • Employee retention
    • Synonyms/related terms: recruitment, promotion, advancement, loyalty
  • Female
    • Synonyms/related terms: women, mothers
  • Synonyms/related terms: police, sheriff, cops
    • Law enforcement officers

Step 5: Develop a Search String

Once you've identified your search terms and synonyms, the final pre-search step is to combine those terms into search strings.

Online search tools like the library catalog and databases require a specific format for search statements, including the use of words called Boolean operators. Boolean operators are the words AND, OR, and NOT. Placing these words between your search terms will help you find books and articles that are targeted to your research topic.

Boolean and operator

The Boolean operator AND gives you more targeted results by requiring that two or more terms all appear within the title, abstract, or table of contents of a book or article. Let's imagine we are looking for information on workplace discrimination.

A keyword search in WorldCat Local for "discrimination" returns 1,576 titles.

A keyword search for "workplace AND discrimination" returns  81 titles, but those 81 are much more relevant to our topic.

Boolean and operator

The Boolean operator OR is the opposite of AND. OR generally gives you more search results by requiring either one term or another to appear in a book or article. OR works best when you are looking for synonyms or related terms.

For example, a keyword search in WorldCat Local for "recruitment" returns 545 titles.

A keyword search for "recruitment OR retention" returns 733 titles.

A keyword search for "recruitment AND retention" returns 55 titles.

    Step 6: Choose the Right Research Tool/Database

    There are several types of research sources that can be found through the Pearson Library web site including books, eBooks, articles and media content. WorldCat Local is a great tool for beginning your search:

    Refer to the Subject Guides for full-text databases:

    Step 7: Save Your Results

    Once you've started finding books and articles on your topic, be sure to save the information. This will save you time as you organize your notes and start preparing your bibliography.

    When you search for books and other content in WorldCat Local, you can create lists and save the titles for later use. You can also automatically generate an APA, MLA, or Chicago-style citation for the books you find by clicking on the "WorldCat Citations" link from the catalog record.
    The Using WorldCat Local (WCL) guide will provide you with more details. Our WorldCat Local video tutorials will walk you through using WorldCat Local

    In online databases, look for ways to mark your articles or save them in a folder. Then look for print/email/save options; usually you can also choose to have a pre-formatted citation (in APA, MLA, or Chicago style) included in the email or saved file. This tutorial will show you how to create folders in the EBSCOhost databases.

    If the database you're using does not have a full-text copy of the article you need, click on the "Full Text Finder" button. The Full Text Finder will tell you if there is a copy of the article in another database; if so, it will link you to the full text.

    If a full-text article is not available, you can request a copy through Interlibrary Loan. Click the link to request a free, scanned copy of the article from another library.

    Step 8: Write Your Paper

    By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what your main points are. If you want some help with the writing process, you should schedule an appointment with the CLU Writing Center. The writing tutors can give you tips, feedback, and suggestions that can help you write a great paper!

    Step 9: Cite Your Sources

    It is important that you cite your information sources correctly in your paper, for several reasons:

    1. You need to give credit to the original author of your information.
    2. If you don't cite your sources, you may be accused of plagiarism.
    3. Providing citations shows your professor that you have devoted time and effort to researching your topic.
    4. Citations help future readers of your work locate the sources you've used, so that they can build upon the research you've started.

    If you need help citing sources, check out our Citations Guide where you can find links to tip sheets, Web sites on style, and citation tools.


    This guide has been adapted with permission from the Azuza Pacific University Libraries