English Language Program (ELP)

Related Guides

Handouts

Pick a Topic

Step 1: Brainstorm (think) of a topic.

What are you interested in?

Does your topic fit the assignment?

Do you know something about the topic already? Can you learn about it easily?

Our Research Topic Ideas guide can be a good place to look for suggestions.

Using a concept map can help you think about your topic. Put your "big idea" in the center and your "smaller ideas" at the end of the lines.

Step 2: Read some basic information about your topic.

Sometimes you will already know something about your topic, but finding a short summary of the topic may remind you of facts you forgot.

Encyclopedias and other reference books are good places to start. I suggest Credo Reference or Gale Virtual Reference, which is a database of online encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Look out for important words or phrases related to your topic because these will come in handy later on.

Pre-Search

Step 3: Focus your topic.

Is my topic too broad (big)? The history of the United States is too big a topic to fit in a five page research paper, but the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War might work.

Is my topic too narrow (small)? You might have trouble finding enough information on the effects of climate change in Genesee County, but the effects in Michigan or the Great Lakes might work.

Put your topic in the form of a question. This will help you focus on the kind of information you want to collect. The question, "What causes air pollution?" is a very different question from "Does air pollution cause lung disease?"

Step 4: Make a list of keywords.

What were the important words you found in the encyclopedia?

Are there synonyms for those words? Heart disease is the same thing as cardiovascular disease.

Are there broader (less specific) or narrower (more specific) words you could use? "Smog" is more specific than "air pollution." "Children" is less specific than "kindergarteners."

Not every database or article uses the same words to describe the same topic, so look for suggested keywords during your search.

Search

Step 5: Search for the articles, books, and other sources of information you need.

Some good places to start are:

When you are searching:

Use your list of keywords to search the library's databases. Scroll down to check out the box of Search Tips to make better searches.

Use database limiters to shorten our list of results. Limiters like "Full Text," "Peer-Reviewed," and date ranges can be very helpful.

You may start searching and not be able to find the type of information you need. You may have to broaden or narrow your topic or use different keywords in your search. You may have to do several searches to find what you are looking for.

Evaluate your sources of information. Use the PDF handout linked below.

Remember to Ask a Librarian if you have questions or trouble finding what you need!

Step 6: Keep track of any articles you find.

Write down information about your sources as you find them. Include the article title, the author, and information about the journal like its title, year of publication, and volume/issue numbers.

Most databases have ways to send a list of articles to your email.

You can download or print articles as you find them.

You can send an article's citation information to a citation tracking program like Refworks or EndNote.

A good resource to use while writing your paper is UM Flint's Writing Center.

Why can't I use Wikipedia or Google?

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that is open to anyone to contribute or edit its articles. This means that articles, especially newer ones, can contain incorrect, biased, or incomplete information. Wikipedia even says so: Researching with Wikipedia. If you do choose to use Wikipedia to get background information, evaluate the sources at the bottom of the article (also called footnotes).

Google (and other search engines like Bing) are good tools for finding quick information. But for in depth scholarly information, even Google Scholar is not great. The Google algorithm returns search results based on relevance and popularity, meaning that the first results returned are ones that the most people clicked on. Google Scholar also asks you to pay to download many of the articles, articles that you can access through the UM Flint library without paying for them.

Search Tips

Use limiters on the left side of search results pages to reduce the number of results. Choices like "Full Text," "Peer-Review," and "Journal Article" can be very helpful.

Putting words in quotation marks will make the database search for those words as a phrase, e.g. "air pollution" instead of "air" in one sentence and "pollution" in another.

The Boolean operator AND will search for articles that contain both words, e.g. poverty AND Africa will search for articles that contain both the words "poverty" and "Africa."

The Boolean operator OR will search for articles that contain either word, even if an article only one of the terms, e.g. "heart attack" OR "myocardial infarction" will search for articles with the words "heart attack" and articles with the words "myocardial infarction."

The Boolean operator NOT will return articles that do not contain the word, e.g. AIDS AND North America NOT Mexico will search for articles about AIDS in North America, but not in Mexico.

Chat with a Librarian

Your Librarian

Liz Svoboda

Email: esvoboda@umich.edu

Phone: 810.762.3007

Office: Library 331

Words to Know

Research

The process of finding information in articles, books, and other resources to learn and complete an assignment.

Reference Librarian 

A person who will help you find information and help you with your research.

Database

A collection of resources that you can search online in specific ways, like keyword, title, author, or date.

Journal

A publication that is printed on a regular basis with scholarly research articles.

Peer-Review

Process where experts read articles and comment on them before the articles are published in a journal.

Article

A short essay published as part of a magazine, journal, or newspaper.

Abstract

A short description or summary of the ideas in an article, book or report

Keyword

An important word that describes the topic or subject of a resource.

Full Text

The complete content of an article or ebook.

Download 

To transfer information or a file from a computer or a database to a folder or storage device to view later.

Summon 

The library's main search tool; our version of Google. It searches our online catalog and most of our databases and ebooks.

Online Catalog

The online database you use to search for our books and some ebooks.

Boolean Operator

A word that tells a computer to combine search terms. The operators are AND, OR, and NOT.

Limiter

Choices in a database that can help shorten and focus a list of search results. Limiters are usually located on the left side of the screen. "Full Text" and "Peer-reviewed" are examples.