Research Guides


Guide to Library Research

Choose a topic

One of the most difficult steps can be choosing and defining your paper topic. Some general hints:

  • Choose a topic that interests you. You will be living with this topic for several weeks.
  • Clearly define your topic. For example, there is a vast amount of information on Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Focus your paper on one aspect, such as home care of Alzheimer patients.

Sources to help you get started

  • CQ Researcher
    Each issue of this weekly periodical focuses on a specific issue (example: school vouchers, gun control, cloning). This database can be accessed from the Library Article Databases page. The index lists all the topics published since 1991. A print version is located in the journal collection on the first floor of the Library.
  • Opposing Viewpoints
    As the title indicates, this series of books presents both sides to controversial issues. To locate books in this series, search Alvernia's Catalog with the keyword “opposing viewpoints”.
  • The Reference Shelf
    The Reference Shelf is a series of books that address current issues in the news. They are an excellent starting point for understanding the scope of an issue and how the issue is viewed from multiple perspectives. Each book includes a bibliography of print and web resources. To locate books in this series, search Alvernia's Catalog with the keyword “the reference shelf ”.
  • Browse news journals
    While journals such as Time and Newsweek are not scholarly resources for your paper, they can provide ideas for topics that are currently in the news.
  • Explore online for websites that list "hot topics" for research papers.
  • Scan news sites like Digg, the New York Times and the Reading Eagle.

Create a list of search terms

An important first step in conducting a search on a specific topic is to generate a list of keywords for the main terms of your topic. For example, if your topic is on home care of Alzheimer patients, your list might have terms like Alzheimer, dementia, memory disorders, patients, care therapy, family relationships, etc. Use this list of terms in searching for books, journal articles and Internet resources.

When you find a book or journal article that is relevant to your paper topic, note the subject terms assigned to the item. Use these same terms to search for similar books or journal articles.

Think about what you want to say

The content of your paper will determine what type of information resources you will use. For example, journal articles will have the most current information, while books generally allow for a broader, historical perspective. Will you want to include statistics, law reviews or government information? What type of information you need will determine where you need to look.


guide lib res booksBooks with background information

A good way to begin your research is to locate and read short articles that will give you a broad overview of a topic. The library has specialized reference sources for a variety of topics (the Holocaust, philosophy, science and technology). These resources often provide lists of books and articles that will allow you to discover what else is available on a subject.

Topic specific books

Generally, books are appropriate information sources for the arts, humanities and some social sciences. They are less appropriate in areas such as medicine and technology where currency is necessary.

Alvernia's Catalog

Alvernia's Catalog is the best tool for finding items in Alvernia Library's collection. You can search for books, audiobooks, books in the Best Seller collection, audio-visual materials (videos, DVD's, and CD's), course reserves, and journals in out print collection. Item records indicate if the item is available. Students, faculty and staff with an Alvernia ID card can place a hold on items that are currently in circulation.


Searching Alvernia's Catalog

Most of the time you will be searching for books by using key terms. For additional tips on using Alvernia's Catalog, take a look at the InfoSearch Module 3 tutorial.

Journal Articles

Choosing a database

The first step in finding journal articles is selecting a database that indexes journals in your subject area. The Alvernia Library provides access to a variety of article databases. Each database is like a store in a shopping mall.

The Multiple Topics & Disciplines database, Academic Search Premier, is a general database, similar to a department store. It is an index to articles in many subject areas. But the depth of coverage for each subject is more limited than in a subject specific database.

PsycInfo, ERIC, and ATLAReligion are examples of subject specific databases that are like specialty shops. For example, PsycInfo only indexes articles in psychology, while ERIC covers the field of education.

To find articles on your topic it is important to make sure you are in the right store. Just like you wouldn't shop for a necktie in a music store, you wouldn't look for business articles in PsycInfo. Alvernia Subject Guides for different academic majors provide guidance in selecting a database.

Accessing journal articles

If the full text of an article is not available in the database searches, check the listing of print journals to which the Alvernia Library subscribes. The Alvernia Library Periodical Holdings can be found in the red binders located near the computer workstations on the first floor of the Library. You can also use the Periodical Full Text Finder to determine if the full text of an article is available in a another database or in print journals in the Alvernia's Library. If the Alvernia Library does not subscribe to the journal, the article can be obtained through interlibrary loan.

Internet Resources


Finding Web sites

The Alvernia Library Web site contains a link to Selected Websites, with a listing of  Internet sites arranged by subject. The Internet Reference Library is a collection of Web Sites that support the courses offered at Alvernia University. 

Evaluating Web sites

Anybody can put up a Web site, so be sure to evaluate the information before incorporating it into your paper. There are a number of questions to consider in determining whether a Web site merits being used as a source. The Evaluating Web Sites page, lists several Web sites with questions to consider in evaluating a Web site.

Librarian Assistance

Are you having trouble finding the information you need? Please contact us at anytime with your questions about finding articles, books or credible Web sites on your topic. You can contact us in person, call us at 796-8223 or send us a message through the AskALibrarian form.

Your comments are welcome.


research guides

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