Defining your topic
First you'll want to define your topic.
- Read about your overall topic by doing a search in Google. At this point you are not looking for sources to use in your paper. You are just getting a background on your topic and discovering what interests you about it.
- Refine and narrow the scope of your topic. For instance, I may find I am interested in how fracking affects water quality and write my paper on that specific aspect of my topic.
- As you find information about your topic that interests you, search within the library's databases using variations of the terminology you have found to see if there are enough scholarly sources on your topic.
Whether you find a source you would like to use from a Google search or from one of the library's databases, you will want to evaluate them before using them within your paper. Use the "Evaluating Your Sources" tab above to help you assess their value.
There are a number of types of sources available within our databases. In case you find the difference between them confusing, here is a brief explanation of what you will find.
- Academic journal - a scholarly or peer-reviewed journal in which scholarship around a particular academic discipline is written. The research within the journal is to provide new information on the subject and critical analysis of existing research.
- Peer-Reviewed - experts in a specific academic discipline evaluate and cross-examine article submissions before allowing them to be published. The process is generally intense and can involve the author having to make changes or being rejected before being published.
- Scholarly - an academic journal that has been reviewed by one or more editors prior to being published. The process is less strenuous than the peer-review process but still evaluated for quality and contribution to new or existing knowledge within academic disciplines.
- Peer-Reviewed and Scholarly articles are:
- full of references because scholars always back up their argument. Look for a bibliography or works cited page!
- published in academic journals like American Journal of Sociology and NOT in magazines or newspapers, like Reader's Digest or The Washington Post.
- written by professors so check to see if the author is affiliated with any universities or colleges.
- Report - an informational work on a specific topic meant to relay information in an easily digestable form. Usually includes only facts, no opinions. Reports can take the form of a simplified research paper with a hypothesis, methods, results, and conclusion. They also can be a formal written document for a business setting.
- Review - a critical examination of another work which often provides opinion from the author.
- Periodical - a magazine, newspaper, or journal that is published at regular intervals and is not an academic publication.
- Reference - essential information on a subject which is usually broad in scope and easily accessible.