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Gathering and Using Research

Gathering and Using Research

Author: Alison DeRudder

Identify best practices for gathering research and using it in papers and projects.

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Tutorial Audio

what's covered
This tutorial explores the significance of research in higher education and details strategies for locating and citing sources. Here is a list of what’s covered:
  1. Research Basics
  2. In-Depth Research and Library Databases
  3. The Role of Librarians
  4. Citing Sources
  5. Creating a Bibliography or Works Cited Page

1. Research Basics

Before you fully commit to your research topic, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary research. That way, you can make sure you understand the basics about your topic and you can determine whether there will be enough compelling information out there for you to successfully complete your assignment.

Start with a basic web search and resources like dictionaries and encyclopedias. You can also get a sense of whether your topic is a source of popular articles and develop a general idea of any active debates that are playing out in those articles. Then you might put your topic into Google Books, where you can see if there are any full-length studies devoted to your topic, and Google Scholar, which includes articles in academic journals. It will not take you very long to get a better idea of what kind of information is out there on your topic.


Let’s continue with the example of a research paper on genetically modified organisms. If I type “genetically modified organisms” into a Google search, the first result is Wikipedia. I can scan the Wikipedia page for general information, but when I get to the bottom of the page and the “References” section, there are over two hundred cited sources (ranging from popular journalism to peer-reviewed journals), most of which are linked from the Wikipedia page.

Oftentimes, a great strategy for finding relevant sources is to look at citations. Back on the first page of search results, there is the website for Encyclopedia Britannica, articles from popular magazines such as Scientific American and Popular Science, a webpage related to the University of California at San Diego, and one belonging to an organization called The Non-GMO Project.

If I switch the Google search category to “Books,” I see several full-length studies on GMOs, with publication dates as recent as last year, touching on the relationship of GMOs to various subjects including economics, intellectual property, and biosafety. Just from this quick initial search I can learn a lot about what GMOs are, what the controversies are surrounding them, and where I can go to read about them in more depth.

2. In-Depth Research and Library Databases

Once you’ve decided on your topic and conducted your basic preliminary research, it’s time to do some in-depth research. You can start with any books or scholarly articles you discovered in your basic research—can you access them digitally? If not, are they available at a library you have access to?

If you want to maximize the quality and depth of your research at the college level, you will make use of library resources—online, in person, or both. There are a number of scholarly research databases that are designed to locate academic articles. These databases can be specific to a certain field or oriented toward general academic research. They can be free to the public or subscription-based.

College and university libraries, as well as many public libraries, will subscribe to these scholarly research databases. Look into whether and how you can access them. Searching these databases will give you the most complete sense of the scholarly research that exists on your topic.

3. The Role of Librarians

Librarians can be a great resource for you if you are willing to enlist their help. Helping students like you with research projects like the one you are working on is not only a big part of a librarian’s job, but it might be the part of their job they like best and that inspired them to become a librarian in the first place.

Most librarians have advanced degrees in library or information science; they are trained to help you figure out the information you need and track down the relevant sources. Even if you are working from home at your laptop, a library website will have information to help guide you and you can get in contact with a librarian via email or perhaps even live chat.

4. Citing Sources

Recall that the plagiarism tutorial emphasized the necessity of citing sources and detailed the different citation styles you may be asked to use in your college courses. But citing sources is not simply a matter of following the rules and avoiding plagiarism.

As you can see from our discussion of credible and questionable sources, citations are a guide to where the writer has gotten their information. This gives the research a kind of transparency and allows the reader to see the bigger picture—a community of scholars and a history of scholarship at work.

Again, the goal of assignments involving research is for students to engage with scholarship and contribute to scholarly conversations and debates. So when you cite your sources you provide a record of your engagement and contribution.

5. Creating a Bibliography or Works Cited Page

When you write with research, you are responsible for two kinds of citations.

  • In-text citations: This type of citations are the abbreviated citations that you put either in parentheses or in a footnote, depending on which citation style you are using (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.).
  • References: The other kind of citation typically required when writing with research is a complete list of references that should appear on its own page or pages at the end of the work you submit. The list should be titled Bibliography, or Works Cited, or Reference List; once again, the particular citation style determines which title you should use. In each of the popular citation styles, references are listed alphabetically by the last name of the author, but they are formatted slightly differently.

Recall that if you need help with your citation, there are websites like that will format a citation for you if you plug in the relevant information.

Consider the following examples of a full citation for a book in each of the major citation styles:

Citation Style Example
APA Adenle, A. A., Morris, E. J., & Murphy, D. J. (2017). Genetically Modified Organisms in Developing Countries: Risk Analysis and Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MLA Adenle, Ademola A., et al. Genetically Modified Organisms in Developing Countries: Risk Analysis and Governance. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Chicago Adenle, Ademola A., E. Jane. Morris, and Denis J. Murphy. Genetically Modified Organisms in Developing Countries: Risk Analysis and Governance. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

When considering research basics, start your research by looking at general resources to understand the basics of the topic. Use the library databases to find in-depth resources to cite in your project or paper. Cite your sources by using in-text citations as well as a list of all of the sources you included at the end of your paper, also known as a bibliography or a works cited page.