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Library Research Techniques  

Last Updated: Aug 22, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Where Do I Start?

Do you have a research paper assigned for one or more of your courses?  Are you unsure of how to begin the research, what sources to use, or how to write the paper and cite your sources?  This guide is here to help you with this process.  Even experienced researchers struggle with beginning their projects, so don't dispair! 




  • First, determine what interests you. This will help you choose a topic.  It is very important that you choose a topic that is relevant to the course, and one which you would like to spend either part of all or the semester researching.  Nothing is worse than researching a topic that bores you.  


  • Second, learn more about your chosen topic.  The more you learn about your topic will help you to focus your research question.  Your topic may be very broad, such as "electricity."  But, once you've completed a bit of research on the subject, perhaps you've realized you would like to learn more about Nikola Tesla, a late nineteenth and early twentieth century inventor who is renowned for his invention of the induction motor.  Now that you have taken your broad topic (electricity) and narrowed it down to a specific topic (Nikola Tesla) you can brainstorm a research question, such as "How did Nikola Tesla's induction motor impact the study and practice of electrical engineering during the first half of the twentieth century?"


  • Third, locate sources.  When gathering your sources, a mix of different types (articles, books, audio, and video) generally enrich the quality of research papers.  However, if your Professor establishes firm guidelines regarding sources to-use and not to-use in your paper, always follow their instructions.  Two tabs at the top of this guide, labeled "Scholarly vs. Popular" and "Finding Books and Articles" will guide you through the process of locating relevant sources. 


  • Fourth, review and evaluate your sources.  You may locate twenty possible sources, but once you have reviewed each, you may determine that only five are actually relevant to your topic.  


  • Fifth, Write. Now that you have conducted a bit of research, you can start the writing portion of your paper.  Don't worry if you start writing but then stop to research some more.  Research abounds with fits and starts.  In fact, it is not unusual for researchers to continue to seek out new sources right up until the conclusion of their paper. 


Still a little fuzzy on all of these steps?  The library is happy to help.  Contact us with any questions!


Phone: 202-274-5104

In-Person: Bldg 41, 5th Floor

Reference Desk: Hours

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