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Step One: Getting Started
• Define and refine your topic. Start by brainstorming, on your own or with a friend, to
identify what you already know about the topic, what you want to know, and what you need to
• If you are writing an essay, identify the possible topics or arguments you are going to
explore in your paper to support your thesis statement.
• Use your instructor's assessment information to identify specific information that is
• Make sure you understand the assignment . Talk to your instructor if you need
clarification about the assignment requirements or how you'll be assessed.
• Use an encyclopedia to get an overview of your topic. Choose your subject, then scroll
down the page to see a list of multi-disciplinary and/or subject-specific encyclopedias available
@ the library or online.
• If you need help writing an outline or drafting your report these websites offer
suggestions, more details, and examples that may be helpful:
o Writing Lab Reports and Scientific Papers
o Writing Research Papers
§ Writing a thesis statement
§ Bad and better thesis statements
• Use a graphic organizer to classify or sort your ideas and/or the instructor's requirements.
Here's a sample organizer for planning a vacation to Thailand. Items in the bubbles represent
things to be researched.
Once you have 4 or 5 “ideas bubbles” you think might be suitable for further consideration complete a
“Thinking Quad” reflecting on what you already know, think, have discovered, learned about this
smaller section of your larger topic.
Step Two: Gathering Information
What kind of information do I need?
Consider possible sources for your research. Think about the following questions:
• Do you need scholarly information, or is a mix of information from scholarly, popular and
trade publications acceptable?
• Do you need to use primary sources as well as secondary sources?
• Will you use books, articles, websites, or other sources (videos, interviews, etc.)?
For help with these questions, see below Comparing Sources of Information
Comparing Sources of Information
The following source comparisons can help you in your research. Scroll down to see them all.
What is the difference between scholarly and popular sources?
Length of longer articles, in-depth and detailed shorter articles, broad overview
Author author usually an expert; staff writer or freelance writer;
credentials and contact information articles often unsigned
Language discipline-specific vocabulary, no specialized background
specialized knowledge of the discipline knowledge of the subject matter
required to understand the article required to understand the article
Intended researchers and experts in the field general public
Article lay- structured articles with sub-headings often do not follow a specific
out and like abstract, literature review, format or structure
design methodology, results, conclusion,
Images images that support the text are often colour photos support the text
charts or tables; few colour photos
Editorial experts in the field review and critically articles are not critically
review evaluate articles before publication evaluated by discipline experts
What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?
Primary Sources Secondary Sources
Content created at the time of an event, or very created after event; sometimes a
soon after long time after something
often uses primary sources as
created by someone who saw or heard examples
an event themselves
expresses an opinion or an
argument about a past event
often one-of-a-kind, or rare
Examples diaries, letters, memoirs, speeches, history text books, historical
manuscripts, interviews, statistics, movies and biographies (can all
treaties, laws, research articles, records be secondary sources)
of information collected by the
government, organizations, committees
(can all be primary sources)
Eamon, Michael. (Library and Archives Canada, 2004). Defining primary and secondary sources.
Retrieved 09.05.07 from http://www.collectionscanada.ca/education/008-3010-e.html#e
What are the differences between books, articles and websites?
Books In-depth coverage accessible from the library during
operating hours only
usually only one copy available for loan
Periodicals Current difficult to identify the most important
articles on a topic, as there's often so
Multiple users can access the many
same electronic article
Websites Accessible 24x7; free! require extra-special evaluation, as
websites can be posted by anyone
Step Three: Analyzing and Evaluating
Before you incorporate information from a book, article, website or other source in your research
paper, consider the following:
• Who is the author? What are his or her credentials? Is it possible to learn more about the
• Does the author refer to or provide a bibliography of other sources? A bibliography can
indicate that the author is knowledgeable and has done some research.
• Who is the publisher? Is it a recognized university press, a reputable commercial
publisher or a vanity press?
• What is the agenda, bias or point-of-view of the publisher, sponsoring organization or
• When was the information published? Consider whether you need current or historical
• Where was the information published? Consider whether you require Canadian, US or
international perspectives on your topic.
• Does the publication's intended purpose support your research needs?
• Can the information be verified?
• Is the publication peer-reviewed (reviewed by experts in the field)?
For help with these questions, see previous Comparing Sources of Information
Special Considerations for Websites
• Is there a publisher or sponsoring organization for the website? Or, is this a personal web
• Why was the site created?
• Can you identify the place of origin or where the web site was created?
• How current is the information on the website? Is there a "last updated" date or copyright
• Look at the URL. Does it incorporate a person's name or is it an organization? Does it
have a ~, which might indicate that it is a private page? What is the URL ending? Look for a
link that tells "About" the organization or authors.
• Check the page header and footer.
• Look for any "disclaimers" that may be linked from the page.
For more information on evaluating websites, please refer to:
• Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial
by UC Berkley Library
• Criteria for Evaluating Internet Resources
by University of British Columbia Library
Step Four: Presenting Information and Citing Sources