Before you start looking for research materials you will want to take a few minutes to think about the kinds of materials that will be best for your project. The first place to start if with your faculty recommendations. If your course uses Desire2Learn, check out your library course page posted for your there. The best place to look for materials will be determined by the type of materials needed to meet your information need. Each kind of resource has strengths and weaknesses. You will want to choose those that are appropriate for your project. What follows are some considerations regarding particular sources and
Usually brief, but relatively up to date information. Feature articles may be more in depth than most news stories. You may need to find several articles to get coverage of a past story as it was breaking.
These include general publications and trade publications. General magazines cover a wide variety of topics. Authors are usually professional writers with variable levels of expertise on any given topic. Trade magazines are geared toward practitioners in a particular field. Authors often specialize in certain topics so the level of expertise is often greater than that in general interest publications.
Scholarly journals report on study and research in a discipline. These publications are usually not as flashy as magazines, and have relatively few ads. Articles tend to be longer, have an abstract, and include notes and bibliographies.
Books take longer to produce and tend to be longer. Often they provide more background and/or depth. The level of authority varies from fiction and personal accounts to extensive research with supporting notes and bibliographies.
Web pages come from a wide variety of sources and their credibility varies substantially. When evaluating web pages you should consider factors such as who is responsible for the page, what organization (if any) they represent, their authority, the currency of the page (look for a last updated date), and if they have a vested interest (such as profit) in posting the information.
Field research includes information from studies and observations, interviews and other such materials.
General reference resources can be a good place to start, especially if you are researching a topic that you don’t know much about. Britannica Online may give you basic background information. CQ Researcher, Facts on File, and Opposing Viewpoints are additional sources of background information. These sources may refer you to articles in newspapers and general interest periodicals that will provide additional background. Most college instructors expect you to seek information from more specialized resources in addition to any background information that you obtain from these sources.
You will usually look for library books and videotapes by using an online catalog. Articles from newspapers, magazines and journals can often be found by searching an index or an online database. Which database is best depends on the type of material that you are looking for as well as the field or academic discipline that deals with your topic. You may find information on you topic in several different databases, each presenting information for researchers dealing with the topic from a different perspective or point of view.
Many of the databases that the university provides for your research are put together by commercial suppliers known as vendors. Each vendor provides multiple databases and has several different interfaces that you can use to search them. There is a trade off between getting results that are “on target” and becoming overwhelmed by too many “hits.” Often you will find that you can improve your results if you look beyond the default interface and/or databases. You will notice that search interfaces vary substantially from vendor to vendor. Don’t hesitate to use each vendor’s help pages in order to improve your searching technique. Our most frequently used periodical databases include those from vendors such as CQ (Congressional Quarterly), Ebsco, Facts on File (Facts.com), Gale, Lexis-Nexis, Proquest and Wilson Web.
Often articles can be accessed by searching an index or database that focuses on a specific discipline, or field of study. When looking for information it is helpful to determine which discipline is most likely to have published information on your subject or research question and search in a database that is appropriate for that discipline. Often the title of a database will help you to decide if it covers a discipline that is appropriate to your topic. You will get better at this with experience. Examples of disciplines include social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology...); physical sciences such as chemistry and physics; the humanities (philosophy, art, music, literature...). Articles found in discipline-specific databases are often more specialized than those found by searching general databases. Many topics can be researched from within several disciplines.
While statistics can be obtained from many sources some of the most complete are available through government resources. Many of these resources are freely available over the Internet. An excellent website to visit for statistics is usa.gov. This site provides connections to a wide range of statistical resources including the U.S. Census Bureau and the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
Gateways are web pages that are prepared by libraries and others who have an interest in helping you to find subject specific information using the Internet. Often a gateway can provide faster (and more complete) access to quality information that a general search engine can. Our library home page is an example of a gateway. So are usa.gov, the Librarian’s Index to the Internet and the Internet Public Library. Most gateways will arrange links in hierarchies based on topic or type of information. Professional organizations often provide gateways to quality web sites.