Chapter 5: Using information ethically

5.9 Putting it all together

In this course we have focused on information, how it’s organized, and how you can find and evaluate relevant resources online and in research libraries. You’ve compared different types of search tools, such as search engines, library discovery tools, and article indexes, and you should have a general idea of the types of information you’ll find when you use these tools.

Starting your research

When you’re beginning a project, consider your scope and research question. Look for background information to acquaint yourself with the major ideas surrounding your topic. You can do this by researching your topic in encyclopedias, books, and yes–even Wikipedia. You can use this information to refine your key concepts into search terms.

Searching for sources

Once you have your search terms, you can begin searching for articles and other sources that meet your assignment’s requirements and help support your project. Using Quick Search is a good first step for finding articles, books, and other sources.

Whether you’re using Quick Search or an article index, you should start with basic keyword searches. If you get too many or too few results, try modifying your search by using Boolean operators, nesting your terms, or filtering your results. No search will meet all of your research needs on the first try, so try combining a few different techniques.

As you progress in college, you will need to do more in-depth research projects. You can use subject-focused indexes and databases to find peer-reviewed articles and other publications relevant to your specific major.

Evaluating your sources

Carefully evaluate the websites and other resources you use to learn more about your topic. Use the SIFT method to ensure your sources are reliable and meet your needs.

Writing up your results

Next, organize and carefully read through your sources, and analyze and synthesize the ideas within them. As you write, make sure you paraphrase and properly cite what you’ve found. By building on others’ ideas and adding your own arguments, you will succeed in your college-level research.

Sharing your work

Finally, if you want to share the work you’ve done, you have copyright over your creations and can publish, present them at conferences, or choose to license and share them for free online. Just be careful where you share and remember: once your information is on the internet, it’s a lot harder to take down than it was to put up.

This class has covered just the basics of college-level research, but there’s always more to discover. In your ongoing studies, you will learn more about finding, evaluating, and using information. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a librarian for more advanced research support.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Library 160: Introduction to College-Level Research Copyright © 2021 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.