Before we get into how to use specific resources, let’s cover the general guidelines for research. The following suggestions can make your task easier and less frustrating.
1. Use key words. Start by listing key words for your topic that you’ll use to search for sources. For example, key words for a research paper on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” might look like this:
”¢Â Â Â Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (author)
”¢Â Â Â “The Yellow Wallpaper” (title)
”¢Â Â Â mental illness (a topic in the story)
”¢Â Â Â nineteenth-century medicine (another important topic)
”¢Â Â Â feminism (a movement that embraced this story)
2. Include related words. As you list your key words, think of synonyms that you can use to expand or narrow your search. For example, if the topic of your research paper is overcrowding in national parks, you might include some of these synonyms:
”¢Â Â Â environmentalist
”¢Â Â Â wilderness
”¢Â Â Â national monuments
”¢Â Â Â conservation
”¢Â Â Â federal lands
”¢Â Â Â government lands
Can’t think of any synonyms or related terms for your research topic? Check the Library of Congress Guide to Subject Headings. This set of reference books identifies the subject headings used by the Library of Congress. It can help you find key words as well as related terms.
3.Â Â Â Learn the lingo. Nearly every research tool has an abbreviation-or two. The Dictionary of Library Biography, for example, is abbreviated as DLB; Something About the Author is called SATA. You can learn the abbreviations for print sources by checking the introduction or index. For online sources, check the Help screen.
4.Â Â Â Know your library. All libraries offer some special services. Many libraries will get books, newspapers, and magazines for you through interlibrary loans. While there is rarely a charge for this service, it does take time-often as much as two to four weeks. See your reference librarians when you start researching so you know what special services are available, their cost (if any), and the time involved. Be sure to know your library’s hours. Of course, get a library card, if you don’t have one already.
Also know which databases your library subscribes to because these proprietary databases contain information that you often cannot access from free sources.
5. Consult reference librarians. After reading this guidebook, you should be able to locate nearly every reference source you need on your own. Every once in a while, however, you might get stumped. Maybe you’re tired; perhaps you’re in an unfamiliar library.
Whatever the reason, when you have a research question that you can’t answer on your own, turn to the reference librarians. They are the experts on research methods and their job is to help you find what you need. In addition, they are very well educated. Most librarians in colleges and universities, for example, are required to have earned two master’s degrees, one in information retrieval methods (library science) and one in a subject area (such as English, history, math, and so on).
Many libraries now have live online librarians available 24×7 so you can get your reference questions answered even if the library is closed. You can find this service on your library’s home page.
Â Checklist of sources
The list below summarizes the different sources available. Skim it now. As you research, return to the list to help you use a range of sources.
Archival materials (rare books, charts, maps, and so on) Atlases
Dictionaries (online and print) E-books (electronic books) Encyclopedias (online and print) Essays
Government documents (online and print)
Magazines (online and print)
Newspapers (online and print) Online databases Online card catalog Pamphlets
Primary sources (letters, diaries, and so on)
Reviews of books, movies, plays, and TV shows