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Library Research at Cornell: Review
the Steps

A stepwise guide to efficient research using the Cornell University Library. Click on the BLUE TABS below to access each section.

Seven Steps

STEP 1: IDENTIFY AND DEVELOP YOUR TOPIC

SUMMARY: State your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?" Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question.

More details on how to identify and develop your topic.

 

STEP 2: FIND BACKGROUND INFORMATION

SUMMARY: Look up your keywords in subject encyclopedia databases or in the indexes to subject encyclopedias in printed form. Read articles in these encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings.

More suggestions on how to find background information.

 

STEP 3: USE CATALOGS TO FIND BOOKS AND MORE

SUMMARY: Use guided keyword searching to find materials by topic or subject. Print or write down the citation (author, title,etc.) and the location information (call number and library). Note the circulation status. When you pull the book from the shelf, scan the bibliography for additional sources. Watch for book-length bibliographies and annual reviews on your subject; they list citations to hundreds of books and articles in one subject area. Check the standard subject subheading "--BIBLIOGRAPHIES," or titles beginning with Annual Review of... in our Catalog.

More detailed instructions for using catalogs to find books.

Watch on YouTube: How to read citations

 

STEP 4: USE DATABASES TO FIND PERIODICAL ARTICLES

SUMMARY: Use periodical databases to find citations to articles. Find and search the databases best suited to your particular topic. Ask at the reference desk if you need help figuring out which ones to use or browse the subject sections of Databases. If the full text of the article you want is not linked in the database you are using, write down the citation and search for the title of the periodical in our Catalog. The catalog lists the print, microform, and electronic versions of all the periodicals we subscribe to.

How to find and use periodical indexes at Cornell.

Watch on YouTube: How to read citations

 

STEP 5: EVALUATE WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND

SUMMARY: See How to Critically Analyze Information Sources and Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals: A Checklist of Criteria for suggestions on evaluating the authority and quality of the books and articles you located.

Watch on YouTube: Identifying scholarly journals    Identifying substantive news sources

If you have found too many or too few sources, you may need to narrow or broaden your topic. Check with a reference librarian or your instructor.

When you're ready to write, here is an annotated list of books to help you organize, format, and write your paper.

 

STEP 6: CITE WHAT YOU FIND USING A STANDARD FORMAT

Go to our guide to online citation help.

Style guides in print (book) format: our comprehensive list is here.

And here is our review of citation management software.

If you are writing an annotated bibliography, see How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography.

 
STEP 7: GET HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT: ASK A LIBRARIAN

Reference Help

Michael Engle's picture
Michael Engle
106 Olin Library
moe1@cornell.edu
Cornell University Library

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