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Research Steps

Links to Research Guides (PDF):
Picking a Topic | Research Steps | Evaluating Sources |

Choosing a Topic

Find Background Information on your Topic

The Reference Section of the Library includes subject encyclopedias, handbooks, and other reference books that can provide an overview of your topic or provide you with background information. Copies of the Library of Congress Classification Browser's Guide can be found near the Reference Desk. This will guide you to the sections of the collection that have materials in your subject area.

You can also do a Keyword Search in the Lakeland Library Catalog to find encyclopedias and handbooks. Type a word or phrase that sums up the main concept relating to your topic and combine it with the word "encyclopedia" or "handbook". You will need to think about the broad subject area when doing this. In other words, there is probably not an encyclopedia of marijuana, but there is an encyclopedia of drugs and alcohol.


  • environment and handbook
  • education and encyclopedia
  • alcohol and encyclopedia

TIP: Congressional Quarterly, Inc. publishes summary reports and overviews of many current topics that will provide you with background information. CQ Researcher (Reference H35 C672); CQ Weekly (Current Periodicals). The CQ Researcher Index is available on the Web at http://library.cqpress.com/researcher_index.pdf
CQ Researcher is also available online as a database. If connecting from off-campus, be sure to connect through the off-campus login.

Identify Key Concepts

Choose the main ideas related to your topic --- think of possible synonyms and antonyms for those concepts.

SAMPLE TOPIC: Automobile companies should be required to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.

  • Concept 1: automobile companies
    Synonyms: auto industry - automobile manufacturers - automobiles - trucks

  • Concept 2: fuel efficiency
    Synonyms: gas mileage - fuel - gas guzzler

  • Concept 3: standards
    Synonyms: regulations - legislation

Use truncation to give you multiple endings for words. Lakeland and OhioLINK library catalogs and EBSCOhost databases use an asterisk "*". Many OhioLINK databases use a dollar sign "$".

EXAMPLE: manufactur* or manufactur$ gives you manufacturer, manufacturers, manufacturing regulat* or regulat$ gives you regulate, regulation, regulations, regulatory

Finding Books on your Topic

From the library's webpage, select Books, etc. and search the Lakeland Catalog or the OhioLINK Catalog. Do a Keyword Search using your Key Concepts. Combine words using Boolean Logic.

Connect the terms using the word OR to enter synonyms and to expand your results.

  • (auto industry) or (car manufactur*) cars or trucks or automobiles

    Connect the terms using the word AND if you want the search to be narrower.

  • (auto industry) and (fuel efficien*)
  • (cars or automobile*) and fuel and standard*

    Look at the catalog record for a book and see what subjects are being used.

    Do a Subject Search if you think that will be helpful or do another word search using those subject terms.

    Finding Articles on your Topic

    Click on Articles, etc. from the library's webpage and select the database that you want to use. Databases will lead you to abstracts (summaries) or the full-text articles, book reviews, papers and reports. Search using the key concepts for your topic.

    General databases that may be helpful include:

  • Academic Search Premier - mix of scholarly and general articles; some are full-text and some are not.
  • Electronic Journal Center (EJC) - provides acces to full-text articles from over 3000 scholarly journals.
  • Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe - offers access to the full-text of newspaper articles and newsletters.

    NOTE: If the article is not available in full-text and cannot be found in the Lakeland Library you will need to submit an Interlibrary Loan request so that the Lakeland Library can get the article for you. Forms are available at the Reference Desk. Allow 2-10 days weeks to get the article.

    Use the Internet to Find Web Sites on to your Topic

    Click on Best Internet Info from the library's homepage for a list of search engines. The domain name included in the Web address (URL) will sometimes give you clues to the source of the information. Some of the domain names include:

    .edu educational institution (college, university) - - These sites include a wide range of content including research papers, statistics, and tutorials, as well as student-created Web sites or papers

    .gov government agency - - Generally reliable sources of information; good sources for statistics

    .org association or organization - - Information may be biased toward organization's mission/goals

    .com company or commercial enterprise - - These sites usually want to sell you something.

    Use extra caution in evaluating Web sites since these are not monitored or edited for content, accuracy or currency.

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