The following steps provide an effective strategy for conducting efficient and accurate library research.
SELECT YOUR TOPIC
Before you can do any research, you need to be clear about what you are researching. A helpful way to clarify your topic is to state your topic in the form of a question.
Example Question - What effect does alcohol abuse have on college students?
Don't worry about being too general, you will refine your topic later.
IDENTIFY KEY WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOUR TOPIC
Make a list of words and terms that describe your topic. To this list add synonyms of those words and other terms related to your topic.
Example Keywords - alcohol abuse, college students
Example Related Words - alcoholism, binge drinking, young adults
This is a very important step because almost all your subsequent research will involve entering these words into various search engines (examples, the library catalog to find books, a research database to find a journal article).
FIND BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Begin your search with printed or online encyclopedias such as Credo Reference or Britannica Online, using the key words and related words that you identified as search terms in Steps 1 and 2. Articles in encyclopedias and similar sources will help you refine your topic. Note any relevant references to books, articles, and other information in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles. You may want to use them in your research.
USE ONLINE CATALOG TO FIND BOOKS
Using words that describe your topic (Identified in Steps 1 and 2 above), do a Keyword search to find books relevant to your topic in the library's online catalog. Once you find appropriate materials, note the citation (author, title, etc.), call number, location, and circulation status of the book.
USE RESEARCH DATABASES TO FIND JOURNAL ARTICLES
Consult a research database like Academic Search Complete to find articles on your topic. Some search results will include the full text of the article. If the full text is not included, please use Journal Finder to see if the full text is available in the library or in another research database.
If the full text is not available, you may hope to use the library's Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Service to borrow books or obtain copies of articles not available at NC Central University.
EVALUATE WHAT YOU FIND
Evaluate the authority and quality of the materials you have located. Consider the author, publisher, and date of each resource. Is the material comprehensive? Is it biased? Who is the intended audience?
Is the article peer-reviewed or from a scholarly journal? A scholarly journal has all of its articles reviewed by panel of experts in the field before the articles are published. Peer-reviewed articles are the "Gold Standard" of academic research. Answering the following questions will help you identify a peer-reviewed article.
Is the author of the article listed near the beginning of the article?
Is the journal in which the article published named?
Is there an abstract of the article available in the database? An abstract is a one paragraph description of the contents of the article.
Does the article have an extensive bibliography (not just a couple of citations)?
If the answer to these questions is 'Yes', the article is probably peer-reviewed.
REVIEW YOUR PROGRESS
After you have completed the previous steps, examine the information you have collected. Ask yourself the following questions.
Does it answer the topic question you posed in Step 1?
Is your topic question too general?
Does it need to be more specific?
Do you need more information about any aspect of your topic?
After you answer these questions, return to Step 1 and repeat the process. (You may be able to skip Step 3 Find Background Information.)
REMEMBER TO ASK A LIBRARIAN FOR HELP IF YOU NEED IT!
Librarians are here to help you with your research. Librarians know the resources the Library has and are eager to assist students.