#1: Do Not Begin Your
Research with the Internet! Students
often begin their research with
search that produces an overwhelming
number of results and a feeling
of frustration. Before beginning
your research, it is useful to
design a search strategy using
the resources available to you
in the library (both online and
print). The steps outlined below
will help you focus your research
and locate relevant sources for
writing your paper.
Define the Topic
the Type of Information Needed
Overviews & Narrow the Topic
Search for Sources
Define the Topic
- What is your specific topic? What is the main idea of the paper?
- If possible, try to find a topic that interests you.
- Write down your topic and the related issues using keywords, phrases, or complete sentences.
- Brainstorm, but try to be specific in identifying and narrowing your topic.
Identify the Type of Information Needed
- What types of information do you need -- books, scholarly journals, magazine articles, newspaper articles, or Internet sites?
- How many sources do you need?
- Do you need historical or current information?
- What is the purpose of the assignment? Do you need to argue a position on a topic, expand your knowledge of a subject, provide comparative information or present different points of view?
Overviews & Narrow the Topic
your instructor has assigned a topic or
you choose one yourself, an effective way
your research is with a source that presents
an overview and identifies specific
issues to help you narrow your topic. This
will enable you to focus your topic
valuable background information for continuing
The following print and online sources will
provide background information and topic
overviews and help you to narrow your research.
for Sources (continuing your research)
- Use the keywords that describe your topic to start your search for information.
the library Catalog for
books, reference books, CDs, or DVDs in
the library's collection.
the online Databases to
locate articles in magazines, academic journals,
and newspapers. The library subscribes to
databases covering a variety of disciplines
including art, biology, health, law, music,
philosophy, politics, and religion. The
primary databases for general research are:
library’s primary database
for locating magazine
and academic journal articles.
The database indexes over 4,600
titles, including full-text for
nearly 3,600 peer-reviewed journals.
Source Plus* provides
full-text articles from major
U.S. and International newspapers.
The database is useful when
searching for information on
access databases from off-campus
you must first register for
and Password. Database
access is limited to currently
enrolled VVC students, faculty and
you are using Internet sources,
try starting with the Internet
Resources page of Web sites recommended
by the college librarians. Subject
directories such as Infomine or
also useful for finding Web sites on specific
subjects. Librarians have evaluated these
sites for accuracy, currency, authority
and objectivity before being included in
Evaluate the Results
Organize the resources you have
found to make sure that you have enough information
and that the sources are relevant to your topic.
Use a critical eye to evaluate the information you find. Some criteria to consider include:
- Who is the author?
- Is the author a specialist in the field?
- Is the information accurate and complete?
- Is it consistent with other information you have found?
- Does the source provide a neutral perspective of the topic or is it biased toward a particular point of view?
- Was it produced in association with a special interest group?
- Date of Publication
- How current is the information?
- Is current information important for your topic, or do you need historical information?
- Is the source comprehensive for the topic?
- Does it present multiple viewpoints?
- Does the source include a table of contents, an index, or bibliography?
- Does it include tables, charts, graphs, maps, illustrations or photographs to support the topic?
your research progresses, be sure to keep
a detailed list of all sources (publication
information, search dates, etc.) you intend
to use in your paper. You will need
for the "In-text
and bibliography or "Works
to document your research. The works
cited list includes a citation for each source
used to write your paper. The citation format
is in a consistent style according to one
of several standard citation
Two of the most common formats for college
research papers are the MLA
(Modern Language Association) (LB
2369 G53 2009) and the APA
(American Psychological Association) (BF76.7
.P83 2010) styles. Always check
with your instructors for format and
librarians have created a
condensed version for both the MLA and APA formats
based on the most commonly used resources
in the VVC library. The condensed version
is especially useful when
from Expanded Academic ASAP and other
Additional information regarding when and
why to cite sources is located under "Understanding
you need help finding additional sources
of information or need assistance with the
library's electronic resources, please ask
at the Reference Desk.
A reference librarian is available during
all open hours.
you have specific questions regarding
writing a research paper or essay, the Writing
Center staff is available to assist