Research needs and requirements vary with each assignment, project or paper. Although there is no single “right” way to conduct research, certain methods and skills can make your research efforts more efficient and effective. If you have questions or can’t find what you need, ask a librarian. Discuss your ideas with your course instructor. Discuss your ideas with a reference librarian. Look over the index and the article titles in a specialized encyclopedia that covers a relevant subject area or discipline. State your topic idea as a question. Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. These are potential search terms. In this case they are “title ix,” “women,” “athletes,” and “college athletic programs”. Before you commit to a specific topic for your research, do a scan to make sure that your topic isn’t completely covered in another paper; at the same time ensure that there is enough information available to complete the project. This can be particularly important if you are planning on using data in your research. If in doubt, ask your professor. If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic. For example: “women and athletes and college and athletics”.

Finding too little information may indicate that you need to broaden your topic by using a more general term or terms in your search. Once you have identified the main topic and keywords for your research, find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. They will give you an idea of how much and what kind of information is available on a given topic. Encyclopedias and dictionaries: You can find subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries by using the Library Catalog or by asking a reference librarian. For authoritative information on your topic, you can also consult our list of Dictionaries and Encyclopedias online or our guide to online encyclopedias for the arts and humanities, the social sciences, and science and engineering. Exploit bibliographies: Often there are scholarly articles that give an overview of research in specific fields (a review of the literature).

The sources cited in the bibliography are good starting points for further research. Look up these sources in the Library Catalog. Check the subject headings listed in the subject field of the online record for these books and journals. Then do subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles. How do I find it? Find library materials such as books, music, videos, articles and audio recordings via the Library Catalog. For more information on how to search using the Library Catalog see these help pages. What if Cornell doesn’t have it? Request it from another library to be delivered to you via Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan. Request that the Library purchase a copy. What is “Get it!”? Cornell link connects to the full-text of articles in places like Google Scholar or databases that only have article abstracts. Sometimes a direct link to full-text is not available on the Get it! If the Library does not own or have access to the item you need, use the link on the Get it! Cornell page to request it through Interlibrary Loan or Document Delivery.

When using a book, article, report, or Web site for your research, it is important to gauge how reliable the source is. Author or creator: What are the author’s credentials (educational background, past writing, experience) in this area? Have you seen the author’s name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note names that appear in many different sources. Year of publication: Is the source current or out of date for your topic? Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information. Topics in the humanities often require material that was written many years ago. Edition: Is this a first edition? Later editions indicate a source has been revised and updated. Multiple printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable. Publisher: Is it a university press or a large reputable publisher? Intentions: Read the preface (book) or abstract (article) to determine the author’s intentions.

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