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Research Strategies & Tips: Find Relevant Information

This guide provides information on identifying topics, developing search statements, finding and evaluating sources, and using information ethically.

Determining the kinds of information you need

Once you've begun exploring your topic and developed some search strategies and statements that will allow you to look for information effectively, think about these questions as you decide what kinds of information you need.

Do you need specific kinds of information?

  • Do you need to find some basic facts or general information?
  • Do you need to use information from books? articles? both? other sources?
  • Do you need case studies? information from government sources?
  • Do you need to use primary sources such as data, letters, interviews, or transcripts?
  • Do you need articles from newspapers?

Does the information need to be current?

  • Topics in history and literature may not depend on currency; topics in the sciences usually do.
  • Generally, information in journal articles is more current than that in books.
  • Do you need to consider points of view from different times in history?

How much information do you need?

  • How long will the paper or presentation be? Information needed for a 20-page paper or an hour-long presentation will be very different than that for a 5-page paper or a 10-minute speech.
  • What type of project are you working on? An assignment requiring your reaction to a work of literature, your opinion on an issue, or your analysis of a work of art may need fewer outside sources. An assignment requiring that you argue effectively for or against an issue, compare two or more situations, or analyze a question will generally demand more sources.

Do you need to consider different points of view?

  • Editorials on a particular topic will usually offer a wide range of opinions.
  • Some magazines have a point of view; for example, some are politically conservative, others are liberal.
  • If you know an author who writes on a topic, look for articles by him/her. Also look for articles which cite, or refer to, the works of this author.

Choosing appropriate information sources

Besides thinking about the kinds of information you need, also think about where you are likely to find that information. There are many different information sources: journal articles, books, newspapers, government publications, data sets, web sites, videos, interviews--these are just a few of the places where you might find the information you need.

Most of the time you will need to use a combination of different sources. Thinking about the best information sources for your topic early in your research process will save time and help ensure that you find the kind of information you need.

Here are some guidelines that can help you in choosing among various sources:

Deciding where to search

Once you know what information sources will be important for research on your topic, you will want to know where to look for information in those sources. Here are some places to start:

Here's more information on finding books.

  • To look for articles, start with databases.

Here's more information on using databases.

Here's more information on Sherlock.

Ask us!

Finding relevant information on your topic is often the most challenging part of any research project. Whenever you have questions about what information you need and what sources can best provide that information, ask a librarian. That's why we're here. You can contact a librarian by email, IM, phone, or in person.