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Steps to Successful Research: Home

This guide provides a few tips on conducting successful research and warns against using potentially unreliable information.

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Tips on Researching

Choosing a topic - The first step to writing a research paper is deciding upon a topic. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Choose a topic that interests you. If none come to mind try the following sites for ideas
    • Hot Topics (Provided courtesy of St. Ambrose University)
  • Choose one that is appropriate to the length of your assignment. Don't pick something too broad to be covered in a short paper or too narrow to be discussed in a longer paper.
  • Consider availability of resources. A topic too regional or recent might make it difficult to find an adequate variety of authoritative sources to properly investigate it.

Begin with general resources - Unless you are already quite familiar with your topic, reading an article in a general or specialized encyclopedia is a good way to begin research. It provides you with background information and suggests interesting questions and problems related to the topic that you can investigate, and important terms that can be used as keywords to search later. A variety of encyclopedias are available behind the reference desk on the first floor of Stapleton Library. While in the library, you can ask a reference librarian to help you find them. The online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is also available. 

If you are like many people, you may use a search engine such google or yahoo or a website such as wikipedia to look for information.  But beware, many students incorrectly believe that free Internet sources such as these provide reliable information for writing papers or other academic assignments.  THEY DO NOT necessarily provide reliable information.  While free Internet sources may provide information about a topic, it is typically not reliable, un-biased, well researched information. For instance, anyone can claim to be an expert and then make an entry about a subject in Wikipedia.   And most instructors will not accept papers based on information from free Internet sources.  Websites such as google or wikipedia should be used only to give yourself some broad ideas about a topic. Depending upon a number of factors such as the accuracy, lack of bias, and currency of a website, it maybe be possible to develop a list of search terms that can then be used to run searches in the databases provided by IUP's library.  

Now, like most things in life, there are exceptions to a rule and in this instance, an exception exists to the "NO GOOGLE RULE" mentioned above.  GoogleScholar does indeed have legitimate, reliable information.  Sometimes, the full-text of an article in the form of a pdf is available.  At other times, only the citation is available.  And at other other times, the citation is available as is a link to whatever library may happen to own the publication.  GoogleScholar can be of value if you're lucky enough to find an article's full-text pdf.  But sometimes, GoogleScholar is useful to help you more easily locate an article's citation so that you can then check the IUP articles databases and/or request a full-text copy from another library.

Limiting your topic - After reviewing general sources you should think more about your topic. It is a good idea to pose your topic as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved. If it seems too broad consider limiting it is some way such as to a particular time period, place, or group of individuals. Write a list of two to four terms related to your  topic which you think will be good keywords to use for searching.

Finding Specific Sources - Using the terms you have selected,  search for a variety of library and Internet resources that provide information on your topic.  They should include:

  • Books - Use Pilot, IUPs online catalog to find books and government documents  in our collection and links to other valuable resources  on the Internet.
  • Journal articles -- Search full-text journal databases such as EBSCOhost or InfoTrac to find the full-text of journal articles.

Document your sources - Good research is based upon reviewing the writing of others, but it is essential to acknowledge those sources both to add authority to your work and to give  credit to other authors. Use the citation guides found in the "Citing What You Find" box immediately below to correctly credit sources you've used.

Remember that the librarians can help you at any step in the research process. These trained information professionals can be found at the Reference Desk  at Stapleton Library most hours the library is opened, and can be contacted by phone 724-357-3006 or by email or chat.

Citing What You Find

A guide to the Chicago/Turabian style of citation.

A guide to the APA style of citation.

A guide to the MLA style of citation.

A guide to citing electronic sources.

The above links are provided courtesy of Purdue University.

Questions or Comments?

Questions or comments concerning this page should be directed to Theresa McDevitt. Correspondence regarding this site should be sent to its maintainer, Ed Zimmerman, .  Revised on 4.15.10.

Guide Creator

Guide originally created by Richard Louis.