How to Get Started - Library Research

  1. Select a Topic:

    It can be helpful to construct your research topic as a question or series of questions.

    Make sure there are plenty of available resources on your topic. Search the library catalog for books and ebooks and the magazine databases for articles to make sure there are enough relevant resources on your topic for you to continue. If you don't find enough resources, you may need to alter or broaden the scope of your topic.

  2. Refine the Scope:

    Your scope should not be too broad or too narrow. It might be helpful to go back and forth between steps 2 and 3 until you feel confident about the focus of your research. Learning more about a topic will help you refine the scope in an informed way.

    Identify the main concepts about your topic that you’re interested in researching.

  3. Get Background Information:

    List keywords and define terms - look at encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesauruses.

    List synonyms for your topic! Figure out all the different words or names that your topic can also be called; you can add these synonyms to the list of keywords you will use when searching for information and resources.

    Wikipedia can be a helpful place to get started. It can provide you with background information and synonyms/other names. Scroll down to the bottom of the Wikipedia page to look for a list of citations for other sources of information. However, you should not use Wikipedia as a real information source or cite it in your paper - it’s only useful for getting an overview of a topic.

  4. Find Information Sources:

    Check the assignment instructions: Are you supposed to include specific types of sources, such as peer-reviewed journals? Do you need a minimum number of sources?

    You can find valuable resources by looking in the works cited list of the best resources you find.

    Books: Bay Area residents can search the Academy of Art Library’s online catalog and the online catalogs for other Bay Area libraries. Online students, check your local public library - type your location into the Public Library Association's Library Finder to locate your nearest library.

    Don’t procrastinate or else the books you need may get checked out by other students!

    eBooks (Electronic Books): Online and on-campus students can access ebooks through the library website. Go to the Online Resources Page, and click the link to ebrary. From here you can you can search for an author, title, or subject, or click the All Subjects link to browse by subject.

    Magazines and Newspapers: Search full-text periodical databases from the Academy of Art Library’s Online Resources Page.

    Internet Searching: You might be able to find some very valuable information by doing a Google search, but it is important to understand how to effectively evaluate the integrity of web resources. UC Berkeley has a helpful guide on evaluating internet sources.

    Remember to keep track of the citations for any resources you use in order to avoid having to go back and find them later.

    Ask A Librarian! Academy of Art librarians are available for research assistance - just ask at the Circulation Desk. Online, you can use the Ask a Librarian form for reference help, and you can also use this form to schedule a one-on-one research consultation with one of our librarians.

  5. Critically Evaluate Sources:

    Check the publication date of the resources to make sure they’re not outdated.

    Make sure the information you get is coming from a legitimate source, one with authority in the field you are researching. This is particularly important when you are getting information from websites. The UC Berkeley guide to evaluating your resources is a helpful starting point.

  6. Cite Sources:

    Use the MLA citation guide on the Library’s website.

    When you use the magazine databases, you can get your citations already formatted!

    Learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it: Academy of Art University Writing Lab - Plagiarism.