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.

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.

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.

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, online, and microform versions of all the periodicals we subscribe to.

Watch on YouTube: How to read citations

Step 5: Finding Primary Sources and Images

Summary: Use our Catalog or this primary sources library guide to find primary sources. Use our images library guide to find images.

Step 6: 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 and 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 7: Cite What You Find Using A Standard Format

Get Help When You Need It: Ask a Librarian at any point in your research process.

Reference Help

Profile Photo
Michael Engle
106 Olin Library
Cornell University Library

Reference Librarian
Selector for
Reference & Anglo-American News
Michael's LibGuides