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Guides & Help

Here is a list of helpful guides, handouts and other Web-based material related to library services.

Where do I even start?

The image is of a road going off into the horizon.Is this you?

  • You have an assignment. Maybe it is for a research paper, an argumentative essay, or a persuasive speech.
  • You get to choose your own topic.
  • According to the assignment, you have to use scholarly sources from the library. 

If you agree with any of the above statements, you are on the right page. The resources linked on this page will help you figure out how to pick a topic for your assignment and teach you about the research process in general.

What's your topic?

Researching information for an assignment is not a one-shot deal. You will likely have to do several searches as you narrow down your topic, look for background information, and find the scholarly sources you need to complete the assignment. The Research Process is not a straight path that everyone follows in exactly the same way. This can be frustrating and time consuming, but the resources below will help you along in the process.

Picking a Topic

Your instructor and the specifics of the assignment should help you with picking a topic. But what if you need some inspiration? It's always a good idea to pick something you are interested in otherwise it will be difficult to stay motivated about researching something you don't really care about.

Think about current events and controversial topics.  Look at what is happening in the world right now. Keep up with the news and see if anything strikes your interest. Whether it's national politics, environmental issues or cultural events, looking at news events from the last few weeks can help you choose a topic.


  • Look at a variety of news sources, from different perspectives. You do not want to be skewed too much one way or another before you get to researching the topic. 
  • If something is too recent, scholarly research might not exist about that specific topic yet. Think about where news events fit in more general subjects.
    • For example: You are interested in researching the Black Lives Matter movement in Chicago. Nothing might be published about that specifically in scholarly journals but you can use BLM as a case study of contemporary Civil Rights movements; Or you can research studies on police brutality in the last twenty years, in general.

News Sources

Reuters CNN
Fox News  Wall Street Journal

Library Databases

You can also pick a topic from Opposing Viewpoints or CQ Researcher:

Opposing Viewpoints covers hottest social issues, such as offshore drilling, climate change, health care, and immigration. Has full text, editor selected articles. Helps students research, analyze and organize a broad variety of information for conducting research, completing writing assignments, preparing for debates, creating presentations and more.

CQ Researcher provides award winning in-depth coverage of the most important issues of the day. The reports are written by experienced journalists, footnoted and professionally fact-checked.

Narrowing Your Research Topic

It is possible that the topic you chose based on your interests is too broad for the assignment you need to do. You cannot write a 5 page paper on the topic of Feminism, for example. You would have too much information to work with and your paper would be a jumble of too many things.

You do not have to change your topic completely but there are ways to narrow it down to make it easier to research and write about.

Try the "KWL exercise"

Take the time to answer these questions about your topic:

  • Know: What do I already know about my topic?
  • Want to Know: What would I like to learn about my topic?
  • Learned: Keep note of new information as you learn more about your topic. This allows you to move back to the beginning of the exercise, but with more specific details that help you narrow the scope of the topic.


I am interested in doing my project on higher education in the United States. That topic is too broad right now so I need to narrow it down.

  • Know: Through my reading of news sources and some articles from the library databases, I know that the United States has different types of higher ed institutions: Community colleges, universities, vocational schools, and for-profit schools. 
  • Want to Know: I am interested in learning more about vocational schools in the United States, and how they compare with community colleges. I especially want to see how many students end up getting jobs after attending each type of school.
  • Learned: As I find articles and books on this topic, I am learning more about it, including more specific aspects. I can go back and update what I Know and then what I Want to Know which will help me narrow down my topic even more. Plus, I am doing research as I go along, which helps me build up the sources I need for the project I have.

Extra Help with Narrowing Down Topic

Searching Google VS. Searching Databases

If your instructor is asking for you to find "Peer-reviewed" or "Academic Journals" you will NOT have an easy time using Google for this, not even Google Scholar will give you results that your instructor will find acceptable.  Check out this Guide for more information on Google and Google Scholar.  The BEST and ONLY way to find Peer-reviewed, academic journals will be through our library databases.  When using Google to do your research you run the risk of finding a "source" that could not be credible, could have old or incorrect information, be biased or even be FAKE NEWS to say the least.  So instead of wasting your time searching for articles on Google and wondering if your instructor will accept them, just go straight to the source - our databases.  

Another way to explain why databases are the best resource is to think of the scholar who spent lots of time and money working on a study… would they want to give away their work for free and publish it on Google? Or would they want it to exist in a database that is a regulated and reputable that holds other credible studies that we have to pay to subscribe to?

How do you search Google?

You probably type in a question or word if you want a quick answer/definition.  For example, "What time is it in Hawaii?" or "Where is the nearest Starbucks?"

Or, you type in a phrase: "the EU and refugees" or "Flint Water Crisis"

Library Databases are different from Google.

You will have a hard time if you treat your Library Database searches the same as your Google searches.

Database searching works best when you deconstruct your topic or question into Keywords. Click here to learn more about developing keywords for database searches and how to develop your search strategy.

More Information

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