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How to do Research (and find what you need for your assignment!)

Basic information on how to get started on your assignment!

Where Should You Start?

Start by making your basic idea into a topic:

  • Choose something that interests you! You'll enjoy it and do a better job
  • Pay attention to the requirements of your assignment.
  • Choose something broad enough to give you several search options.
  • Choose something that is focused enough that you’re not overwhelmed with information.

Do some background research using:

  • Your assignment & textbook
  • Encyclopedias from our Electronic Databases, including Gale Virtual Reference (see below for our encyclopedias)
  • Websites (to get general ideas about a topic - Wikipedia could get you started, but never cite from here!)
  • Words that may be significant to your topic. Example: social mobility, upward mobility, etc. may be words associated with "The American Dream" 

Always jot down new words and ideas as you find information and keep it at your side while you're doing your research - you can use it to improve your searches!

Refine your ideas:

If you find that your topic is too broad, add another aspect to it.  Each time you add an aspect (and a keyword to your search), you will narrow your ideas a bit. Too broad a topic will result in too many search results.  But beware--too narrow a topic will result in difficulty finding information resources.

Gather Background and General Information

Now you have a general topic do some preliminary research on your idea.

At this point, you might have a topic that you're interested in, but you're unclear on something or need a little bit more background or history on your topic. Books can help with more detail on a general topic, and  Encyclopedias can offer a lot of quick help on that specific person/place/thing/event that you want to know more about. 

Search using more general terms, and narrow your results once you've begun searching.  Narrow even further using the columns on the left-hand side of your result page. For more tips, check out our Books - Using the Library Catalog & Finding Books page. 

For Help on Finding Books:


Digging Deeper on Your Topic

Look for articles using a database that works for your topic; be sure to use our searching tips below!

Depending on your topic and/or subject, you'll want to use specific article databases to find what you need. Not all databases have the same kind of information and some databases that work for one assignment might not work for a different assignment!

Check out the Electronic Databases by Subject & Type to look for databases that will best fit your needs. If you know which database to use, use the Databases A to Z. 

If you're still lost, let us know. We’ll be happy to assist you!

Database Search Tips:

  • Less is more! Keep the searches down to fewer words per search.
  • Use a variety of words or phrases to describe what you're looking for, and don't be afraid to do multiple searches.
  • Find a few articles that work, look for new words/phrases to describe what you're looking for (and write them down for later reference!!), and search again using those new phrases or words.
  • Pay attention to the number of results! Try to get less than 60 results per search, so you can look at your results over quickly. The first page of results may not be the best picks for your topic, so look at all of the results!


If you have too many results...

  • Make sure your topic isn't too broad, such as “health”
  • Try narrowing your topic by either adding to the search bar or by using the 'narrow by' columns, either to the right or left of your results. 
    • Including a group type, such as Childhood Obesity
    • Including a location, such as California
    • Change the date range to the last few years, so the information is current

Too few results or not quite what you are looking for?

  • Search for broader topics such as “social media” rather than "Instagram"
  • Use a variety of terms, for example: teens or teenagers or adolescents or young adults