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Introduction to Library Research

Begin here to start your research papers

Choose a Topic

Spark your curiosity

Find a topic that interests you. What do you want to research, explore and learn about? Browse the internet, examine Wikipedia, explore your topic. Begin with some test searches in Spartan Search and Google Scholar. 

  • Verify that your topic fits with the course assignment by checking the syllabus for guidance.  
  • Avoid overly broad topics that have millions of search results. Narrow the focus. 
  • Focus your topic by timeframe, geography, demographic groups, events, economy, culture, etc. 
  • If you can’t seem to find any search results, your topic may be too narrow. 
  • Begin with background research in Encyclopedia Britannica and/or Oxford Reference Online. 
  • Determine the language, definitions and key search terms for your topic. 

From Question to Problem to Claim

  • Ask challenging open-ended questions.
  • What is the significance of the question, what should be learned? 
  • Research opposition viewpoints and counterclaims with an open mind. 
  • Develop your thesis or research question to guide your research paper. 
  • Your research and analysis of sources provide the evidence which supports your claim. 

Refining a Topic

Focus on a specific aspect of your topic. Follow these helpful steps:

  • If your topic is too broad (e.g. World War II or crime) there will be too much information.
  • If your topic is overly narrow finding enough information will be challenging.
  • Taking the time to read background information from reference works, internet sources, and books will help you establish an appropriate topic for a research paper. This will allow you to evaluate if there is sufficient interest and scholarship for you to gather the amount of information needed.
  • Figure out the correct language to use. Identify useful terms relevant to your topic. Occasionally, the language you and I use to discuss a topic is not the same language used by experts.
  • Consider limiting the focus of your topic to narrow your research; by time frame, geographic location, demographic group, specific event, or category of analysis (i.e. social, economic, cultural, etc.).

Steps in the Research Process

  • Primary research is conducting an original experiment, investigating firsthand evidence, or interpreting creative works. Please see the Primary Sources guide for further details.
  • Secondary research involves gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research available in books, articles, statistical sources or other published data.
  • A research paper is not a summary or merely accumulating facts. Research should expand our understanding of the known world, build upon previous scholarship, or offer new insights based on critical evaluation of evidence.

Steps in the Research Process:


  • It may be necessary to revisit some of these steps as you progress in your research.
  • You may find that your initial expectations are not supported, new questions arise, or there are gaps in the research.
  • Flexibility, following the trail of evidence, and reflecting on different ways to phrase or frame your topic are invaluable in dealing with the challenges of research.
  • Cultivating the skills needed to be an effective researcher are integral to professional success and informed citizenship.

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