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Introduction to Research
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.
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Choosing and developing a research topic
Suggestions for finding a topic
Identifying a topic
State your topic idea as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about Title IX (Title Nine) and women athletes in college athletic programs, you might pose the question, "How did Title IX impact women athletes in college athletic programs?"
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".
Testing the topic
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.
Finding background information
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.
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Finding books, articles, and other materials
How do I find it?
Find books, music, video and audio materials
Find articles, databases, images
Find dissertations
Searching the Library Catalog
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?
If Cornell does not own the item you need, you can:
What is "Get it!"?
The Get it! Cornell link connects to the full-text of articles in places like Google Scholar or databases that only have article abstracts. (If you are off campus be sure to be logged in Kerberos with your NetID and password, or use PassKey.)
Sometimes a direct link to full-text is not available on the Get it! Cornell page. In those cases, click the links to search the Library Catalog by ISSN or ISBN (preferred) or by title and determine whether we own or have access to the item, either online through another source or in print (hardcopy).
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.
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Evaluating resources
When using a book, article, report, or Web site for your research, it is important to gauge how reliable the source is.
Initial appraisal
Content analysis
Intentions: Read the preface (book) or abstract (article) to determine the author's intentions. Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material covered. Note whether bibliographies are included.
Intended audience: What type of audience is the author addressing? Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?
Objective reasoning:
Coverage:
Writing style: Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read? Is the author repetitive?
Evaluative reviews (books):
Evaluating Web resources
Purpose
Occasionally, Web sites pretending to be objective have a hidden agenda and may be trying to persuade, promote, or sell something.
Authority
Reliability
The dependability of a Web site is important if it is going to be cited as a source in other works or recommended for use by others.
Currency
Coverage
Distinguishing scholarly from non-scholarly periodicals (articles and papers):
Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. In this guide we have divided periodical literature into four categories:
Scholarly
Substantive news or general interest
Popular
Sensational
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Citing sources
When writing a research paper, it is important to cite the sources you used in a way such that a reader could find them.
These are the most common formats for citing sources. If you are unsure what style to use, ask your professor.
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Research
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Introduction to Research
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