This tutorial is a starter kit for making the library your own. It covers the basics in brief: how to approach a research assignment, how to find books, articles, and other kinds of sources, how to make choices among the sources you find, and where you can get help along the way.
This information is also available in human form at the reference desk. You can always sit down and consult with a librarian about your project, no matter where you are in the process or how vague or specific your questions might be.
A massive study examining how students do research had some interesting findings, including these:
For many, if not most, research assignments, you need to do more than understand a topic. You need to have some central idea about it, a story to tell or a thesis that is supported by evidence.
One way to do this is to turn your topic into a question. Chances are your question will change as your understanding of the topic deepens, but it should help guide your search to have a specific research question in mind.
That all depends on what you're trying to do. Read your assignment carefully and think about what steps you might want to take next. You probably will need to explore a topic area before you decide exactly where you want to go with it. Be sure to take advantage of the superb Writing Center tutors (who can help you think through an assignment) and the reference librarians (who can point you toward the best information resources).
photo courtesy of Joe Philipson
The word "research" means many different things. Research assignments might involve reporting on a topic, reviewing the state of research in a given area, reading and critically analyzing a text (in which case you may be directed to "discuss," "compare and contrast," or "react to" the text) or investigating and taking a stand on an issue. You might be asked to generate an original thesis or to conduct field research (interviews, surveys, experiments, or first-hand observations), using information you find in the library to support and frame your ideas. Read your assignment carefully and see if you can answer these questions:
If you aren't able to answer these questions, ask the teacher for clarification - but only after you've read the assignment carefully.
Doing research projects takes time. Look at your calendar and set realistic goals. Be sure you don't spend all your time finding sources - plan time into your schedule to read them and to write!
You might want to take a look at our Assignment Calculator to get some idea of how to schedule your work. Or create your own schedule based on the checklist found in The Everyday Writer.
You will have to spend some time mapping out the territory of a topic, sorting out what information is available and what different angles have been taken by others. This is often the most difficult part of the research process - and the most frustrating because you don't feel as if you're making much headway. Try these strategies to make the most of this part of the process: