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Scholarly Research Process Outline: Starting Your Research

provides pathways to more comprehensive resources.

Strategic start to research


You already are a critical consumer: you know people are trying to sell you something – or worse, trick you. It is obvious that "trustworthy" institutions (school, government, police) can have inherent bias and might be protecting their own interests rather than protecting your rights. You have learned to question authority and think for yourself, to explore all options before making critical decisions.

You must now learn how to use your existing critical skills to navigate the complex “academic world.” Fortunately, there are some general rules to help you -- and you still use the same critical skills you have already developed. Unfortunately, there is not one academic world – there are many different academic communities with different beliefs, methods, and reward structures. To be successful you must learn to operate within these specialized community expectations. You will need to learn how to find, organize, and present information that is persuasive. In some cases you may turn to beauty (art, theatre, writing), or logic (philosophy) -- in other cases your positions may require evidence (science).

The library is here to help you discover and critically analyze information, and turn it into useful knowledge. We can help you create good questions, explore the most reliable resources, and capture and repurpose information legally and ethically. Starting with good information is necessary in order to develop successful positions.

What you choose to do with this information is up to you; you can use it verbally, as text, visually, and in combination to support your positions. Your power comes from persuasion, and that depends upon both creativity and knowledge.



Before one starts searching for information, it is important to craft a reasonable search strategy, which includes understanding the appropriate terminology, the types of information you might locate, the scale of the topic, the limits and facets to the topic, and the best tools to find the most complete, precise, or convenient materials.

See our short video describing the Types of Information that you may choose to explore.

One must always critically analyze the resulting materials because many items are not current, accurate, or complete—or are written to support a specific position rather than providing a balanced representation of all perspectives. Consider using the CRAAP test: is the material Current, Relevant, Authoritative, Accurate, and Purposeful? These questions should be answered before you use any materials to support a position or a conclusion.



There are a number of ways to understand the basic terminology, key authors and organizations, and historical coverage of a topic. One good way to approach this overview is to search within the RELIABLE reference tools such as handbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias on our Facts/Definitions information page. 

See our short video describing the key tools we provide to search for news, facts, articles, and books

You may also search for more in-depth online and paper reference tools found on our subject guide pages.



A good way to select a topic of a reasonable scale -- not too broad or too specific -- which is likely to have enough literature that addresses that concern, is to use the controlled vocabulary or the facets that are presented on search-result pages. Facets contain breakdowns of the larger topic into more precise groupings, often created using thesaurus terms or word-frequency analyses. Consider using these facets as guides for narrowing your topic.

What is a good research topic?

  • First, select a topic that interests you and which you wish to learn more about.
  • A topic has to be debatable. It does not necessarily mean that it has to be controversial. This means that you need to formulate a topic of inquiry where you try to explore a connection or relationship between and among ideas. For example, the topic formulated as Socratic Method is not debatable. It is a very broad concept that you can easily find described in an encyclopedia. However, the same topic formulated as Socratic Method --- Its Advantages and Disadvantages in Elementary School Teaching is clearly debatable. 
  • Some topics are not suitable for a college research paper, such as obvious facts, opinions, or events that are described in encyclopedias or other reference sources. These documented ideas can be used to support your own ideas and arguments in a paper, or can be considered as an element in constructing your own hypothesis or thesis statement. Also, topics or ideas that are very sketchy and unverified by mainstream sources may not be appropriate, as you will have difficulty finding evidence and prior material on which to build your position. Very recent events may also not have a substantial body of information or interpretation sufficient for a research paper. Your personal biographical facts or memoirs are quite good.... for autobiography or memoirs, but not for a research paper based on external sources.
  • The scale of the research question is very important. Do not pick a topic that is so broad that it cannot be addressed in a simple position paper...such as the large topic of gun control. Do not pick a topic that is so specific that it will not have enough materials for a bibliography...such as the very detailed question of should the public be able to buy a Luger pistol. Find a facet of the topic to consider...such as should background checks be an essential element of gun control? 



WARNING: Searching the Internet will provide many unique pieces of  information, but the results can be false, skewed, and inaccurate. Focus on the accuracy of the content, not the format or the place where you find it. The web provides high quality information from professional associations, societies, and academic institutions. However, the web also contains sites which provide false, misleading, and outrageous content; and some sites appear authoritative but are really only presenting the portion of the material that supports their positions. Everything is written for a purpose, so be alert in order to identify misleading information.

WARNING: Web search tools include algorithms that tailor your results based upon your previous behaviors and preferences



You should be able to justify the articles and web pages you have selected to support your position.

The following CRAAP criteria must be addressed for each item you use as a reference in your bibliography:

  • Currency -- is the material recent enough to consider the latest aspects and findings on your topic?
  • Relevance -- does the material speak exactly to the topics you address in your position?
  • Authority -- how can you determine the credentials of the author or organization that created the material?
  • Accuracy -- how can you determine if the selected material appears to be supported by multiple sources with reliable or reproduceable information?
  • Purpose -- can you determine if this material provides a well-rounded perspective on the topic, or is intended to support a position through showing only some of the information that would be important to study the topic in a balanced way? Is the purpose of the presented information for advocacy, criticism, debate, or the presentation of new findings or interpretations?





You should never trust the results that are returned from a general Google search, as many pages are created by people with little expertise and/or a hidden agenda. Wikipedia provides excellent overviews of topics, with pointers to source materials, but the perspective is not always academically accurate or balanced. Be sure to supplement this information with more reliable information from peer-reviewed resources such as those listed on our Facts/Definitions page.


SEARCHING FOR JOURNAL ARTICLES (research results and expert opinions):

A short video discussing some tips for creating a good search strategy -- to find a reasonable scale topic and find the best results.

Be careful if you perform advanced Google searches, as your results are based upon your previous search preferences, so results will be less comprehensive over time, and will tend to support your favorite topics/perspectives/purchasing behavior. In addition, Google will not provide all the full-text articles that are available to you through our multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete journal-article aggregator.

Google Scholar provides free searching of  a selection of the academic journal literature, with results providing more reliable peer-reviewed materials, but the results are not as comprehensive as those found in our subject specific journal indexes. In addition, Google Scholar will not provide all the full-text articles that are available to you through our multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete journal-article aggregator or our interdisciplinary Central Index database.

See a few images of the comparative domains of these search tools or a presentation about the limits of Google and the alternative search options.



Our news page allows you to search across a wide variety of news resources. Coverage can include balanced journalism, intentionally slanted and misleading propaganda, and fake news. Platforms can include newspapers, online feeds, and TV news channels. Ethnic Newswatch provides material from alternative perspectives when compared to the mainstream media. Our tools provide more precise searching than the general searches found in Google, but Google may find older material than we have in our tools. Larger academic libraries have more comprehensive news search tools than we provide. 



Listen Notes allows you to search by subject for podcasts. There is no comparable library search tool. 



Alltop allows you to browse through many news services and blogs at one time.

You can use a search tool meant just for finding blogs, such as



You can find fair use images by starting with the Google Image Search Advanced page and selecting the free options on the bottom pull-down. You can input an image or image URL. Another image search option is CC search by Creative commons. Also consider the Smithsonian Museum digital gallery.

Students that successfully complete the library quizzes will receive an Information Fluency badge: .

If you do not find what you are looking for, consider contacting your subject librarian.



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