11 Library Research

Phyllis Niles, M.L.I.S., M.S.

Learning Objectives

  • Formulate a research statement or question.
  • Formulate keywords or concepts.
  • Determine the appropriate type of materials.
  • Determine the appropriate databases.
  • Evaluate research materials.
  • Cite the sources used.


According to library.uaf.edu, “Library research involves the step-by-step process used to gather information in order to write a paper, create a presentation or complete a project.” To start your research, you choose a topic and create a statement or question.  If you do not have a topic, choose a subject that interests you. It is helpful if you have a basic knowledge of the subject so you know what aspect you want to explore. If you still need ideas, use the textbook. Go to the index and choose a topic.

For example, if you want information about tuition-free education for community college students, the research question may be “should community college students have free tuition?” This is a broad question; we will add some details. Rephrasing the question to: “Should community college students have free tuition and what are the advantages and disadvantages?” Now that we have a research question/statement, we can identify keywords.


Keywords are the concepts that are used to search the databases and to find research materials. The keywords come from the research statement. Using the statement above, the keywords would be “community college students,” “free tuition,” and “advantages and disadvantages.” If these terms do not give the desired results, use synonyms or similar words. For example, instead of using “community college,” use “two-year college.” A synonym for “free tuition” may be “no cost.” Use “pros and cons” instead of “advantages and disadvantages.” Before searching the databases, one must determine what type of published materials are most useful.

Material Types

There are five common materials used for research: books, journals, peer reviewed journals, newspapers, and websites. Books are used to obtain an overview of the topic and a historical perspective. They should not be used to find current information, since information in books may be out of date by the time they are published. For current information, refer to journals or newspapers. Articles in newspapers can be as up to date as the current day. These articles are noticeably short and just give basic facts. For more in-depth, current material, refer to journal articles. To find scholarly articles, use peer reviewed journals. Such articles are written by experts in the field. One probably would want to use a combination of materials depending on the topic. Start with newspapers for the most current information. Next, search journals for additional information. Use websites with caution. We will discuss this in evaluating sources. Once we have selected the keywords and have decided on the type of materials, we are ready to search the databases.

Choosing a Database

According to Adam Hughes of Search Data Management, a database is “a collection of information that is organized so that it can be easily accessed, managed, and updated.” It is suggested that you start your research with a general database such as Academic Search Complete. These databases cover many different subjects and have many types of materials. Searching here will give you an overview of what is written on the topic. It will also allow searching many types of materials in a single search. After you have searched for the general information, use a subject database. In the example “Free tuition for Community College students,” one would choose an educational database such as ERIC. A business database would also be appropriate to find articles about the economics of free tuition. Searching a government website would provide information on congressional proposals on the subject. We now have a research statement and keywords,  and we know how to choose material types and databases. The next step is to search the databases for articles and other sources.

Searching Databases

The same search strategy will be used in all databases. As stated earlier, one should start the search with a general database. Always select the advanced search. This allows you to use multiple keywords in a single search. By using this technique, you narrow the search. This allows you to focus the search to retrieve accurate results. In the first box of the advanced search, type the general topic. In our example, it would be “community college students.”  In the next box, type what you want to know about the topic; in our example, it would be “free tuition.” In the third box, place another term to narrow the results such as “advantages or disadvantages.” A list of materials will now appear. This is the results list. It may include books, journal articles, peer reviewed articles, newspaper articles, and websites. This list may be limited in several ways. If you choose “limit,” you can narrow the search by date. You may also limit by “material”, so you are only searching for books, journal articles, or newspapers. Make sure you choose the “full text” so that you get the entire article. Next, review the results list. If an article title seems appropriate, read the abstract. An abstract is a short summary of the article. Before emailing check the box labeled “cite.” You will receive the article and the citation. The citation will be used for the “Works Cited” page, which will be discussed later. Not all sources in the results list will be appropriate for your research project. All materials should be evaluated.

Evaluating Sources

Before using any, make sure it is credible. There are four criteria that will be discussed: authority, currency, purpose, and supporting statements. It is important to know what authority the writer has. For instance, are they affiliated with a research institution or a government source? Is the journal where they are publishing credible? Are the sources current? These will be important in locating recent material. The purpose for writing the article should be considered. Are just facts being presented or is the author expressing a point of view? Lastly, consider if there are statements of fact to support the conclusions.


After you have sources, it is necessary to cite them. If citations are not included it is plagiarism. There are three major reasons to cite your sources: to give credit to the author, to avoid plagiarism, and to allow the reader further access to your information.

Maureen Moran from Richmond Law Library defines plagiarism as “using ideas and information from an outside source without giving credit to the original author.” Every time you use an idea from an outside source, you must cite that source, or you are plagiarizing. This is a very serious academic offense in the United States, and it can lead to a variety of disciplinary measures including a failing grade or expulsion. To avoid plagiarism, you must list all the sources used on a Works Cited page.

Works Cited Page

All the sources that were used must be listed on the Works Cited page. The two most common styles for citations are MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association). For information consult the MLA handbook or The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. There are also tools that will help you format your citations.  Four frequently used tools are Easy Bib (easybib.com), Knight Cite (knightcite.calvin.edu), Purdue Owl (owl.prudue.edu), and zoterobib (zbib.org).  These tools will help you format all types of materials either in MLA style or APA style.


The methods explained in this chapter can be used for any research project that you will do during your academic or professional careers. These methods will be useful for finding information throughout your life.

Review Questions

  1. How do you form a research question?
  2. How do you determine what words to enter in the database?
  3. How do you determine the type of material that is appropriate?
  4. How do you determine which database to use?
  5. What should be considered when evaluating sources?
  6. What three reasons why sources should be cited?

Works Cited

Rasmuson, Elmer E.  “Library Research Process.”, UAF,15 Sept. 2020.   Https://library.uaf.edu

Moran, Maureen. “How to Avoid Plagiarism.” Richmond Libguides, University of Richmond School of Law, 16 Feb.,2021. https://law-guides.com/howtoavoidplagirism.

Hughes, Adams (ed), Techtarget, 31, July 2019. Searchdatamanagement.techtarget.com


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