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Research How-To: Strategies, Resources and Librarian Pro Tips

What does the research process look like? What are the resources you'll need?

Research Step By Step

Read the assignment prompt (again) for best results.


  • What are the most important parts of the assignment? Underline, highlight, or write your future self a note.
    • When’s the due date? 
    • How many words, pages, or minutes are required? 
    • What types of sources are required? How many of each?
    • What is the requested citation style or format?
    • Bonus: What do you think your instructor wants you to learn from this assignment?
  • If part of the assignment prompt confuses you, ask your instructor to clarify.

Pre-Research = Gather information!


Browse potential topics

  • Tertiary sources like encyclopedias are great for browsing topics.
  • Sure, start with Wikipedia. But don’t cite Wikipedia. It is not a scholarly source, nor an endpoint for research. While great for pre-research, Wikipedia and similar point you towards keywords and subjects in scholarly spaces. There’s tons of authoritative online encyclopedias available through the library.
  • Browse encyclopedia collections below at Library Homepage / Research Help / Databases A-Z
    • Credo Reference 
    • Gale Virtual Reference Library
  • While browsing entries, take note of new vocabulary or subtopics within larger topics.
    • Are any of these smaller subtopics interesting to you? Why?
  • Remember that finding a good topic often involves 1) asking a question and 2) investigating to see what answer(s) are out there.

Trial and error is normal

  • Have you done a little pre-research and realized you need to recalibrate your topic? That's just part of the process. YOU ARE OKAY.
  • Keep looking for unanswered questions within a topic that interests you!


Which Source Types do you need?


  • Books or eBooks

    • Long - but check the table of contents. You may only need one chapter that’s relevant to your topic.
      • Cite a book even if only one chapter is relevant to your project.
    • Scholarly if published by a university press.
    • Aimed at general readers or scholarly / expert readers. 
    • Use for detailed social and historical background, biographies, or the evolution of a concept, idea, or movement. 
  • Articles published by Scholarly Journals

    • Medium length - read abstract (short summary) and discussion for relevance to your topic. 
      • Often includes charts or infographics.
      • Always includes works cited.
    • Not sure if a scholarly journal is peer-reviewed? Google the journal’s website, or look up the journal in Ulrich’s International Directory of Periodicals (Library Homepage / Databases A-Z).
    • Aimed at other researchers in the same field or discipline.
    • Use for sharply focused original research, or for sprawling historical literature reviews (collections of previously published and significant research) on a topic.
  • Articles published by Newspapers or Magazines

    • Short length - read abstract if available. Lots of photos.
    • Not scholarly. Edited articles by professional journalists may be authoritative without being peer-reviewed. 
    • Feeling confused about news bias?
    • Aimed at general reader; uses accessible language free of jargon.
    • Use for current info, or as primary sources when looking back at specific moment in history. 
  • Articles published by Industry Periodicals

    • Short length - read abstract if available. Probably lots of photos.
    • Not scholarly. Edited articles by practitioners in the field may be expert and authoritative without being peer-reviewed. 
      • Examples: Ad Week, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Library Journal, Womens Wear Daily
    • Aimed at professionals in their respective industries; includes industry-specific jargon.
    • Use for current info, hot topics, and trends in a specific industry.
  • Statistics or Infographics

    • Shortest of the short!
    • Usually not scholarly. Note source of original data.
      • May be from government sources like Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Census, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Labor statistics, Bureau of Justice statistics, etc. 
    • Beware: statistics are easily manipulated to show conflicting points of view using same data. Refer to original data source when possible. 
    • Try easy-to-browse Statista at Library Homepage / Databases A-Z. 

Locate Sources by Type!

Access library resources at Homepage:


  • Multisearch

    • Use when you want to search all Iwasaki Library’s books and ebooks, DVDs, and streaming video access. 

    • Use when you want to browse tons of articles! Search 90% of our subscription database content, including scholarly journals, industry journals, news and magazines, and dissertations.

      • Manage large number of results: limit by Source Type, Subject, or Date of Publication.

      • Use checkbox for Peer-Reviewed Content, if desired. 

      • Database Search Hacks (1 pg PDF) or Multisearch / ? / Searching.

    • For statistics, images, or market analysis, consult a relevant Research Guide.

    • To see all individual subject databases instead, consult Databases A-Z.

  • Research Guides, or Databases A-Z 

    • Librarian-created webpages listing Best Bets library resources by subject.

    • Use if Multisearch results are too overwhelming or too broad.

    • Library Homepage / Research Guides tab

  • Fenway Library Organization Catalog (FLO Catalog)

    • Use when you want to see only Iwasaki Library’s books, ebooks, DVDs, and streaming video. No articles

    • ALSO searches materials held at other FLO member libraries!

      • Limit results to Location: Emerson, if desired.

      • Request items from other libraries! You have free access to so much material through Library Homepage / Services / Interlibrary Loan. 

    • Library Homepage / Books & Videos tab

  • Publications A-Z 

    • Search electronic access to periodicals (any literature published at regular intervals) by title.

      • Examples: New York Times, Autophagy, Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, Chronicle of Higher Education

    • Use if searching for access to specific periodical.

    • Library Homepage / Research Help / Publications A-Z

Organize Your Sources


  • a free downloadable citation manager.

    • Attach article PDFs or screenshots to your source citations.

    • Change citation format with one click!

    • Create magically formatted Works Cited lists and in-text citations in Google Docs or MS Word.

    • Clear, concise help at / Documentation

  • Most library subscription products (databases, ebooks) also generate citations.

    • Example of book result with citation generated by Multisearch, below.

Screenshot of Citation tool in Multisearch book result for Tulip Mania.


Screenshot of generated APA citation in Multisearch's Citation tool.

Further Reading (or Clicking)


  • Anatomy of a Scholarly Article, from North Carolina State University Libraries (NCSU).

    • Clickable interactive tool. Hover to highlight sections of the scholarly article. Click to see definitions of each section, and how to use in your paper.


  • Research Quick Tips (1 min videos in playlist) from Credo Reference. 

    • Answers to common research questions such as

      • How to find a topic

      • Using pre-research to understand your topic

      • What to do if your topic is too broad

      • Why you need many sources

      • How to synthesize info on your topic

      • And more, at

  • Choosing and Using Sources: a guide to academic research (open access ebook) 

    • Free to read online or download as PDF, ePUB, or Kindle. Google it!

      • Yes, open access (OA) resources can be searched with Google. In contrast to non-OA resources, which are available through the Library Homepage for free, or through $$ paywalls on Google.

    • Concise interactive content includes real life examples, self-quizzes, and short videos.

    • From Ohio State University Libraries.

  • Ask a Librarian at Iwasaki Library →

    • Schedule a 20 min research consultation, email us, or chat!