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HELP! I have a research paper!

Suggestions on how to do productive research.

Help! I have a research paper!

Research is all about problem solving and increasing your knowledge. You have an idea and then you develop a research question and thesis. Before you write your paper, you conduct your research, gathering all the information you need. This is where this guide will help.

 This guide is designed to get you started on your research, keep you going in the middle, and to wrap it up effectively at the end.

TIP: Here are some databases to get you started!

Choose a topic

I have no idea what to write about!

To pick a topic, you need to explore. Let's discover what information is out there.

How do you explore a topic?  Find some overview or background information on your topic. Read to get the 'big picture'.   Encyclopedias (both online and in print) are excellent sources for this.  Some encyclopedias are broad and general and some are very specific.  A librarian is happy to help you find the right ones.  You can also search the library catalog for books, and conduct some database searches for articles. 

When you have some ideas, think about this:

  • Is your topic too broad?  “There is way too much info on this topic!!  I’ll never be able to decide what to look at.
  • Is your topic too narrow?  “There’s NO information on my topic!  I’m stuck.”
  • Is your topic going to work?  “While doing research, I learned a few things and now I want to change my topic.”


Do some background reading!

Good news - you have found a topic!! Now you need to learn more about your topic.

When you want to find background information on your topic the best sources are encyclopedias and books.  



You probably know college-level work is not based on Wikipedia research, right?  Ok. You got that.  But you don't have to throw out the whole Wikipedia concept.  Here's how you can use Wikipedia in college:

  1. Getting background info on a subject, just like any other encyclopedia... just be careful to confirm facts elsewhere and avoid citing Wikipedia.
  2. Getting familiar with the technical language or subject jargon -- perfect for finding terms to use in keyword searches.
  3. References at the bottom of the page are a good place to confirm information and find out more

Evaluating the Credibility of Your Sources

Useful guide for evaluating published sources of information.


Columbia College, Columbia University in the City of New York, 208 Hamilton Hall, 1130 Amsterdam Ave, NY, NY 10027

Evaluating Sources

It's important to evaluate your sources, especially websites. What should you look for?

  • Is the information reliable?  
  • How old is it?  Is it outdated, obsolete?  Is it very current? How do you know?
  • Who sponsors the website?  What are their credentials?  What authority do they have?  
  • Why did they create a website?  Are they trying to inform, entertain, persuade, sell, or convince you of something?  
  • Take two minutes and watch the following video:

Evaluating Websites

Evaluating Web Pages:
Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask

UC Berkeley - Teaching Library Internet Workshops

Very comprehensive guide to evaluating websites.

Source: University of California at Berkeley

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