Do you need help researching a paper? We’re here to help. Check out our research guides below.
Research is Key to Academic Excellence
Knowing where to start your research is the first step in developing your idea. In the two guides below, we offer insight into how to find the right information to identify and develop your topic and guidelines on how to begin your research. The two guides include navigational links to pages that provide more details about topic development and research support. These links will take you to other college websites that provide good advice on these fundamentals or more information provided by our Easley reference librarians. We also encourage you to document your research carefully in order to avoid plagiarism. The library staff is available to offer more guidance, but you should always check with your instructor first if you have questions.
Identify & Develop Your Topic
Step 1: Identify a Topic
A good way to start your research is to state your topic as a question. This helps you clarify your thoughts and focus your topic. For example, if your topic is drinking and driving, you could ask questions such as:
- How does drinking affect driving?
- What are the laws on drinking and driving?
- What are the statistics on drinking and driving?
Step 2: Identify Concepts
Once you have listed the possible questions and chosen your topic as a specific question, you need to identify the main concepts in that question. You do this by picking out the significant terms in your question, such as effect, laws, or statistics.
Step 3: Narrow or Broaden Your Topic
If you find too much or too little information, you need to narrow or broaden your topic. To narrow your topic, try adding concrete or more specific terms to your question. For example, instead of asking, “What are the laws on drinking and driving?” ask, “What are Virginia’s laws on drinking and driving?” Or, instead of asking, “What are the statistics on drinking and driving?” you can ask, “What are the statistics on teenage drinking and driving?” Both examples use a specific word to help narrow the topic.
Step 4: Test Your Topic
Test the main concepts or the keywords in your topic by looking them up in appropriate background sources (subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.) or by using the words as search terms in the library’s catalog or one of the library’s databases.
Note: If you are finding too much information and too many sources, you can narrow your topic by using the “AND” operator in your search query. Instead of searching for “college students drinking,” change the query to “college students and drinking.” If you are finding too little information, you may need to broaden your search. For example, search for information by using “teenagers,” rather than “college students” as your search term.
Once you have identified and tested your topic, you are ready for the next step, which is finding background information. It’s time to conduct your research. Click Conduct Research for more information.
Conduct Research to Better Understand Your Topic
Once you have identified the main topic and the critical words for your research, it’s time to find one or more sources of background information to read.
Background information sources help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. The most common background sources are encyclopedias and dictionaries from the library’s reference collection. Textbooks and authoritative websites can also provide valuable information. Once you find your background information, note any useful sources (books, journals, or websites) that you are directed to in that source. In encyclopedias or other reference books, further sources can be found in a bibliography or a “Further Reading” section at the end of an article. Remember that many of the books and articles you find in the catalog and in databases will also have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional relevant sources for your research.
By routinely using the technique of following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a surprisingly large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short amount of time.
Encyclopedias & Dictionaries
Direct links to our online encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference resources are listed below. These are also accessible via Easley Library’s catalog. If you are off-campus but would like to access these resources, take a look at the off-campus access instructions. If you are an on-campus student, the library also has print reference books.