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Starting Your Research

First Steps...

First, think about what type of information you need. Do you need information for a class assignment? Is it for personal use? How much do you know about this topic already? Your information need will determine the type of information that will be most useful to you; some highly reputable sources actually might not bet the best resource for you in the moment.

The best way to start your research process might be with a simple Google search! 

Information Need Source Type
Background Information / Overview

Dictionaries / Encyclopedias (print or digital)



Books (print or ebooks)

Current Events

News sites, newspapers (print or digital)



Data / Statistics

Government Websites

Non-Profit Organization Websites (e.g. PEW Research Center)

Library Databases: Statista


Social Media




Research / Analysis

Scholarly Articles (print or online databases)

Scholarly Books (print or ebooks)

Source Types

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a reference work is “a source of factual information…intended for research or consultation on individual matters rather than continuous reading.” Reference works, such as encyclopedias, can be a valuable resource at the beginning of the research process.
Search In: The library catalog
  • Background research
  • Quick, reliable facts and statistics
  • Gain greater familiarity with a topic
  • Narrow or broad a research topic
  • Discover new terminology to use as keywords in database searches
  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Encyclopedia of Rhetoric
  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • The Rand McNally Atlas of the Oceans

Books can be excellent sources for both broad and in-depth knowledge of a subject. They may provide a general overview or history of a subject, critical analysis from a particular angle, multiple perspectives on an issue, and more. In addition, the bibliography of a book can point researchers to other important works on a subject.  

Search in: The library catalog (for both physical and electronic books)


  • Background research
  • Summarized, more in-depth knowledge of a subject
  • Bibliographies and reference lists which point to other significant works on a subject


A scholarly journal (also known as an academic journal or a peer-reviewed journal) is a type of serial publication which publishes articles of a scholarly nature. The content of such journals is:

  • subject-specific 
  • geared towards an academic audience
  • written by experts in the field (typically people with terminal degrees like PhDs)

Prior to publication, all articles published in a peer-reviewed journal undergo a peer-review process in which the editor(s) of the journal will send articles that are being considered for publication to other scholars in the same field (i.e. to the author’s peers). These scholars will then assess the article’s relevance, quality of scholarship, appropriateness for the journal, etc.

Search In: Online databases


  • Most recently published research and original research
  • Critical analysis by experts
  • More in-depth, detailed research on a topic


  • American Literary Scholarship (Journal)
  • Annual Review of Psychology (Journal)
  • African American Review (Journal)
  • Bell Journal of Economics (Journal)