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 Constructing a Research Paper


If you donít know where you are going

youíll probably never get there.






Identify and Develop a Topic

Selecting a research topic is much like deciding on a travel destination. Once you have narrowed your ideas to an interesting subject, write down a brief statement about this topic.  For example: "Rock groups of the 60s, their popularity and major influence on the music industry."  Once the topic is selected, write down specific questions that you'll want to answer.  The research process will drive your destination.  Your original topic may develop into something entirely different.  You may choose to follow an alternate path and go down a different road.



Find Background Information


         Plan the route. You have many decisions to make. 


After determining the topic, you can map out your route.  You must identify the types of sources that will provide  the information needed, then determine where to find these sources.  Types of sources that should be considered include books, periodicals, the Internet and other libraries (interlibrary loan).




Find Books



                                                    The key to finding books is the online library catalog.  Search the library catalog by title, author or subject. In addition to books, the catalog allows you to search for periodicals, government documents, audiovisual material, and Special Collections. 

Now you're ready to go for a spin.  Journey through the library's book stacks.



                            Sight-seeing in the Reference area 




 If you get lost during your sight-seeing trip, stop and ask directions.  The following reference sources will be most useful to acquire quick answers to any questions you may have. 




Find Journal Articles


Periodicals include newspapers, magazines, and journals.  They are published regularly. . .daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly.  Journals are periodicals containing articles written by experts in a particular field of study.  If the researcher wrote the article, is it a primary source.  If reporters write the article, such as in popular magazines, it is a secondary source.  Typically, journal articles contain extensive bibliographies that lead to additional sources.  


 Indexes (print/electronic) are the road maps for finding articles. 


Journal articles are important in your research. You should use periodical indexes (online article databases) to identify current journal and newspaper articles published in the professional and scholarly literature on topics relevant to your research project.  Indexes can be subject-specific for in-depth research or can be more general in nature.


Now you know where you are going (you have the citations), how do you get there (finding the articles)?


All indexes provide a citation, many provide an abstract, and a few provide the full text of the article.  If the article is not available in full text, you must use the library catalog to find out if McFarlin Library subscribes to the journal that publishes the article you need.

To find out if McFarlin Library has a specific journal click on the Journal Titles link on the Libraries' Home Page. Type the journal title in the Search box. If McFarlin subscribes to the journal, note the location and format of the periodical.  Back issues of periodicals might be found as a hard copy, on microfilm, or through an electronic format.   If McFarlin Library does not subscribe to the journal you need, you may request it through interlibrary loan.  



Electronic Resources                           


            Cruising the Internet and other Electronic Resources


There are a variety of means of transportation when you travel.  In doing research, there are a variety of different online resources for different research topics.  It is important to decide which electronic databases are suitable for your particular research.

 McFarlin Library subscribes to many different online services.  These online services provide access to a variety of subject-specific databases.  When researching a topic, there is no single source to consult. You will probably need to search more than one database; however knowing which database to search avoids wasting your time on searching a database that is inappropriate for your topic.  

Following is a partial list of online services available at McFarlin Library:


Academic Source Complete - covers a variety of subject areas

Business Source Complete - covers business magazines, trade, and academic journals

CINAHL - index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature

ERIC - covers educational literature

Health Source, Consumer Edition - covers health-related questions

MEDLINE - covers medical information

MLA - covers literature, language, and folklore

PsycINFO - covers psychology and related fields

SocIndex with Full Text - covers all aspects of sociology

SportDiscus - covers exercise and sports science related fields



WorldCat - OCLC catalog of books, web resources, and other material



Business and Company Resource Center - covers all business and management topics

Literature Research Center


Once you access the databases, you can start searching.  The most common method of searching an electronic database is by subject or keyword. 


The Internet is also an electronic source.  Search the Web last.  There is a lot of useless information out there.  Websites designed to assist you in finding information are called search engines. Search engines are a more effective way of finding information on the Internet.  Most share common features. They all provide a search box for entering the search terms dealing with your topic.  The same principles of searching apply to most search engines. Although there are several thousand search engines, the major web search engines include:




                                                                                         Take pictures along the way                                            


Just as you take pictures on a trip as a record of where you have been, finding and recording pertinent information is necessary to complete the project.


Other Resources

Consider searching these other resources if appropriate to your topic.


Annual Reports
Maps and Atlases
Book Reviews Personal Interviews
Community Resources
Primary Sources: diaries, letters, manuscripts
Conference Proceedings
Special Collections
Government Documents




Evaluate Sources                                    

In all research, especially researching on the Internet, it's important to evaluate information and determine it's usefulness and credibility for your paper.  


There is an increasing amount of accessible information and the number of resources available can be overwhelming.  Evaluating sources is an ongoing process through the course of your research.  Four main points of evaluation include:  authority, content, accuracy, and currency






Citing Sources

Citing sources is the record of your trip.  The purpose of citing sources is to give credit to the author and to give reliability to your work.  Reporting accurate information is essential.  There is no single approach for citing sources. For information on style manuals and guides check out  How to Cite Sources.



Work general to specific.
Find background information first, then use more specific and current sources.


Keep a record of what you find and where you find it.
Write out a complete citation for each source you find.


Still need help in developing the topic?

Need more ideas about the best resources to use for the topic?



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