Researching an ‘A’ Paper

A-Z List of Databases
Research GuidesDatabases by Subject

Where do I begin?

You need to figure out a few things before you panic. You probably have a few other assignments and presentations to do as well and need to answer the question:

When should I start?

This breakdown from College of Charleston gives a good sense of how long the process can take.  It’s always important to start your research earlier than you think you need to, to allow yourself time to request books or articles from other libraries.

Try thinking of the process in 5 steps:

  1. Reading the Assignment – understanding what your professor expects of you
  2. Developing a Topic – the reading, thinking and writing that are part of your research process
  3. Searching for Information – finding and accessing information from the web, the library and elsewhere
  4. Choosing Your Sources – determining what information is reliable and relevant to your topic
  5. Citing Sources – learning how to cite sources properly

(many thanks to the ERIAL Project and the Ronald Williams Library of Northeastern Illinois University for providing the source of this information)

What should I write about? (steps 1 and 2)

You need to read the assignment and be sure you understand exactly what the professor expects of you. See the Writing Center’s Writing Tips page to assist you as well. Use the tools from Credo to create a concept map, and to find basic encyclopedia articles about your topic to get some good ideas for search terms and be better informed. There are two search boxes to the left to help you get started.

What kind of information do I need? Where can I find it? (step 3)

Come see us at the library anytime. There are many different sources at your disposal:

For books: Helin, WorldCat, and if we don’t own it you can use InterLibraryLoan

For articles (scholarly or trade): Databases (listed by subject area)

What is the difference between primary and secondary sources? Remember to double check if your professor specified whether you need primary or secondary sources, or if you can you use websites.

A great way to evaluate whether what you have found will be useful and reliable is to use the CRAAP test (provided by Meriam Library of California State University, Chico)

Choosing and Citing your sources (steps 4 and 5)

  • Only use what you think will support your thesis statement or argument.
  • Double check with your professor to determine which style (MLA, APA, Chicago) you need.
  • See our Citation Resources page for your next steps!


You can set up more than one session with a librarian for help with research. Go to the OAS or Writing Center for revision and writing help at any time. You may spend as much time, and sometimes even more time researching, than actually writing your paper.

Plan accordingly!