Skip to main content

The Research Process: Start Before the End of the Semester

Guides to Research Methods and Writing

Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research. Cheryl Lowry, Ohio State University Libraries,  2016. An online, open textbook.

Quick Videos from CREDO [Click the link, not the image.]

Conclusion

Sometimes the best way to start is to see what materials are available in the library and what original approach you might take. Browse the catalog or the book shelves for ideas. For topics related to Louisiana, visit the Cammie G. Henry Research Center to learn about collections with which you might work.

Another library service is Interlibrary loan: if we don't have an item a user wants, the ILL librarian may borrow it from another library and check it out to you. For more information, see https://library.nsula.edu/interlibraryloan/

Be wary of internet publications and websites. Check their legitimacy before using them.

If you are having problems focusing your topic, searching the databases, or otherwise finding information, contact a librarian for help. Set up a personal Research Consultation with the form at this link.

Good research is not a quick process nor an easy answer. It takes time to think, to locate articles, books, etc.,to read them, and to think about how their information relates to your research question. Do not wait to the last minute to research and write your paper.

Director of Libraries

Abbie Landry's picture
Abbie Landry
Contact:
Eugene P. Watson Memorial Library
Office #309E
Northwestern State University
Natchitoches LA 71497
318-357-4403

6 Steps to Better Research

Step One: Choose Your Topic. The purpose of a research project is to answer a question, find a solution, or compare/contrast. By choosing a topic you find interesting, you will not get bored with the project. You might consider choosing a topic currently "hot" in your major. Remember, you are searching for a new approach, a new solution, or a new insight. Research is not repeating what has already been done. You will formulate a working thesis and it may be easier to think of it as a question rather than a statement.

Step Two: Create your Search Strategy. This step consists of reading, reading, and reading some more. You want to immerse yourself in the literature of your topic. This is called your Background Literature Search. Depending on your subject, you may need books, journals, reports, papers, websites, etc. You will need to determine what resources will answer your question and where these sources are located.

Step Three: Locate Materials. Make sure you exhaust resources in this library--books, journals, databases, reference resources etc. For those items you cannot obtain here, use Interlibrary Loan. For some research topics, you may have to travel to another library, archive, etc.

Step Four: Gather Information. Make sure you have all the materials at hand to organize and write your paper. It is very important to make sure you copy the bibliographic information for your bibliography, references, or works cited page. Note: you do not need to use every item you find. As your research evolves, you may find that the first items you collected are not really relevant. That is OK and part of the process.

Step Five: Evaluate the Information. This involves serious thinking about what you have found. Is it on your topic? Is it too simple? too complex? Is the author an authority in the field? Is it biased? Is it timely? Who published it? Why was it published? Can you verify the information in other sources?

Step Six: Write and Cite. A paper has an introduction, body, and conclusion, and sometimes a  methodology section and a literature review. The introduction is sometimes the hardest part to write; many authors write it last. Make an outline--even a simple one will do. This is your road map.  Research can be tedious process, and most writers experience anxiety at the beginning and end of the process.  Don't be discouraged if you need to go back and do additional research, if new questions or ideas occur to you, or you discover holes in your research.

Be sure you cite everything you use in your paper. Remember, it is OK to use other writers' ideas IF you give them credit. The important part is how you use those ideas to answer your own thesis question. Remember the bibliography: works cited, reference list, etc.

Journals: scholarly, popular, or in-between?

Periodicals or Serials are magazines, journals, or newspapers that are published at set periods--weekly, monthly, quarterly etc. and are published in a series.

Journals generally refer to scholarly, academic, peer-reviewed publications. Peer-Reviewed means that articles are evaluated by peers--other experts in the subject--for quality, accuracy, reliability, and objectivity.

Magazines generally refer to popular publications such as Time or Newsweek. They are written for the general public, not scholars or professionals.

Below is a chart to help you determine if a publication is scholarly or popular.

Scholarly                                                            Popular

Plain cover                                                         Colorful cover, may feature a celebrity or other VIP

Research, technical, or scholarly articles           Articles cover popular, current events, or general interest topics

Author is identified with relevant credentials      Author may not be identified

Concludes with a bibliography of sources          Rarely includes references

Little or no advertising                                        A lot of advertising interspersed with the articles

Publisher is an academic organization or          Commercial publisher                                                                                          university

Audience: Professionals/scholars                      Audience: general public        

Some publications such as American Heritage or Scientific American cross both lines. Always check with your professor if you have doubts about using a publication or website.

Humanities

The humanities include Art, Music, Biography, History, Languages and Literature, and Philosophy. Search for materials in the catalog or the pertinent subject categories in the database directories.

In history and journalism, the library has access to a number of  full-text historical documents: African American Historical Serials Collection, African American Newspapers 1827-1998, America's Historical Newspapers-Louisiana State Package, Civil War Primary Source Documents, European Views of the Americas: 1493-1750, and History Periodicals Collection 1866-1877.

Some databases are multidisciplinary--they include material from many subject areas:

Academic Search Complete: a multi-disciplinary database indexing more than 8,500 full-text periodicals including 7,300 scholarly titles.

Biography in Context: useful in locating authors, artists, philosophers, historians, and other notable public figures.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: online reference books covering a variety of subject areas.

JSTOR (Journal Storage): an archive of scholarly journals, most of which are full-text. Note that some titles are not covered to the current issues.

Project Muse: A collection of books and articles on various topics. Note: not all are available full text.

WorldCat is an international bibliography of books, Internet resources, archival collections, etc. Items held by Northwestern State UniversityLlibraries are highlighted.

Sciences

Most of the NSU resources for the sciences fall under the following database categories: Computers, Nursing and Allied Health, and Science and Technology. Be prepared to use Interlibrary Loan because the number of full-text science articles is considerably less than in humanities and social sciences.

Multidisciplinary databases:

Academic Search Complete: a multi-disciplinary database indexing more than 8,500 full-text periodicals including 7,300 scholarly titles.

Biography in Context: useful in locating scientists.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: online reference books covering a variety of subject areas.

JSTOR (Journal Storage): an archive of scholarly journals, most of which are full-text. Note that some titles are not covered to the current issues.

Social sciences

Social Sciences contain the largest number of disciplines. In the Database Directory by subject, the categories include Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Law and Legal, Political Science, Psychology, Reference and Library Science, and Sociology and Social Work. 

Some additional databases include:

Academic Search Complete: a multi-disciplinary database indexing more than 8,500 full-text periodicals including 7,300 scholarly titles.

Biography in Context: useful in locating authors, scholars, etc.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: online reference books covering a variety of subject areas.

JSTOR (Journal Storage): an archive of scholarly journals, most of which are full-text. Note that some titles are not covered to the current issues.

Project Muse: A collection of books and articles on various topics. Note: not all are available full text.

WorldCat is an international bibliography of books, Internet resources, archival collections, etc. Items held by Northwestern State University libraries are highlighted.