Skip to main content

How to do Library Research

Have you just been assigned a 10-page paper and are unsure of where to start? Or maybe it's been a while since you've been in the library doing research? Here are a few pointers on how to approach library research for papers and projects.

Select A Topic

If you haven't been assigned a topic or don't already have one in mind, you will need to choose one. Some good places to look for ideas are:
  • your course syllabus and/or textbooks
  • reference books in the subject area: handbooks, encyclopedias, etc.

Example: If you've been assigned a paper in your Introduction to Psychology course, look in Encyclopedia of Psychology or Encyclopedia of Human Behavior for topic ideas.

Look for Books

Once you've selected a topic, you'll want to see what kinds of books are available at Macomb College and other area libraries. Check the Macomb College Library Catalog. You may also want to check the Suburban Library Cooperative catalog, which contains information about materials available in local public libraries.

Example: For your psychology class, you've decided to write a paper on eating disorders. Using the Macomb College Library Catalog, you enter a keyword search for books on eating disorders available at Macomb College libraries (choose Find Books & Videos, then Macomb College Library Catalog from the library's main page, and enter eating disorders in the keyword search box and limit your results to Macomb Community College).

Look for Magazine, Journal, and Newspaper Articles

Even if you've found several good books on your topic, you may want to supplement them with more recent information from magazines, newspapers and/or journals. Your first step is to consult a periodical database in order to find articles on your topic. Macomb College Libraries provide access to many different online databases, where users can type in a subject and retrieve a list of references to articles about that topic. Some even enable you to pull up the entire text of the article on the computer.

Example: Using Academic Search Complete (available from the library's main page, Find E-Resources/Academic - All Subjects/Academic Search Complete) you look for articles on eating disorders. There are thousands of articles! You decide to narrow your topic a little more.

Evaluate Information Gathered, Narrow or Expand Topic

As you find information, you should be evaluating its quality. Is the author an authority? Is the publisher of the book or magazine reputable? Do the authors cite what resources they used to prepare the information? Is the material out of date?

Once you start researching, you may also discover that there's either too much or not enough information about your topic. If there's too much, try browsing through books on the subject or scanning article titles from an index to focus in on one aspect of the broader topic. If you have too little information, try looking again using synonyms for your original search terms. You may need to generalize your topic a bit in order to find more information.

Example: After browsing through the titles from your Academic Search Complete search, you see that a couple mention eating disorders and athletes. A search on this more specific topic brings up a smaller number of articles.

Don't Forget - Check the 'Net

You may also want to check the internet for any relevant information on your topic. The Internet provides a wealth of data, including fact sheets, statistics, and full-text online journals on a wide variety of topics. Of course, you need to evaluate the quality of information found just as you would when using books and periodical articles. Macomb College Libraries provide public Internet access at both campuses.

Example: From Google, you search for “eating disorders” site:gov, to find links to government sites that contain information about eating disorders. The first link is to a site about eating disorders at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health -

Don't forget to gather identifying details about the resources you've used. Once you've completed research and written your paper, you may need further information on citing resources.