Rock Valley College

Doing Research

Use sources to strengthen and advance your ideas


Since research is often requiredin college-level papers, it is important to start your research early in the writing process. You can begin researching before you select a topic to explore which main ideas may work best for anassignment. If you already have a topic in mind, you can start researching sources that will help you build upon your main points. The key is to be open to incorporating new ideas that you learn while researching. Don’t be afraid to change a main point if you find research that leads you in a new direction. Being flexibleduring the research process will allow you to find the most effective sources to develop your ideas.

To get started, it is helpful to ask yourself: What do I already know about my topic? What do I need to find out? Look for sources that will support your thesis, explain concepts, lend credibility to your points, address different perspectives, and develop your central idea.

Depending on your topic, you may need to consult printsources, electronicsources, or a combination of both. If you are required to use print sources, visit the campus library to search books and periodicals. If the library does not havea particular source, a librarian can help you request an interlibrary loan to access the book or article from another library. It may take a few days to process an interlibrary loan, so it is best to begin researchingas soon as possible.

The campus library also features several useful electronic sources. It can be helpful to start by searching the academic databases. These are collections of articles, books, videos, and other scholarly materials. The library subscribes toseveral databases, but one of the most usefulis Academic Search Complete, which offers sources from a variety of disciplines. If you are writing a paper for a specific field, you can also search for databases by subject, such as medicine, music, or law.

When searching databases, consider your search terms. If you type“Climate Change,”you will be inundated in researchon environmental effects, financial impacts, health issues, political policies, and more. Instead, use specific terms to yield more manageable results. A Boolean search can be especially helpful when looking for online sources. By including the words “And,”“Or,”and “Not,”you can limit the results. For example, searching for“Climate Change And Coral Reefs” will generate sources that contain both terms. Searching for “Climate Change Or Global Warming” will show sourcesfor either term. Using the word“Not” before a term excludes results for that topic. Accordingly, if I am writing about the environmental impact of climate change, I could search “Climate Change NotFinance” to restrict the results.

You can further define your results by clicking, “Full Text” when searching a database. This option will only produce full articles that you can access immediately. Toensure your sources’ credibility, you cancheck“Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals” for articles that have been approved by other professionals in the field. Databases also feature a “Published Date” option that allows you to search for materials within a certain time range. All of these strategiescansave you time while researching.

The key to researching is to be persistent. You may not find all your sources immediately, but with a little preparation, you can locatethe materials you need to write an effective paper. If you need any assistance whileresearching, ask for a reference librarian at the campus library or visit the Writing Centereither in person or through TMS, the Writing Center’s service for meeting live online with a Writing Coach.

Download the Doing Research handout here!