Researching a Topic

About Us

Identify and develop your topic

Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. Break your topic into concepts. Use a thesaurus to retrieve synonyms and to be sure you are using the established terminology for your subject. Avoid an overly broad topic. "Special education" or "World War II" are far too broad to be searched effectively. Talk with your instructor on how to limit your topic.

Find background information

Look up your keywords in the encyclopedia. Use both a general encyclopedia as well as any specific subject encyclopedias. Read articles in these encyclopedias to get background information for your research. Look at the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles. Make sure you have a good idea of the scope of your topic.

Use I-Share online to find books

Chicago State University's part of a statewide network I-Share ONLINE. You can search for books here at Chicago State as well as 55 other colleges and universities throughout the state. Write down the call number and make sure the status of the book reads available. The majority of books found will be located on the 3rd floor of the library. Books on similar topics are shelved together. Scan the shelves for additional good books once you are in the right area. When you find a good book, scan the bibliography for additional sources.

Use indices to find periodical articles

Use periodical indexes and abstracts to find citations to articles. The Douglas Library has over 100 electronic databases in all disciplines. If you are unsure what the best index is for your particular topic, ask at the reference desk.

Find Internet resources

Use search engines such as to locate materials on the Web. Check to see if the librarians have prepared a guide for your field of study. Use Internet sources cautiously. Be sure you know and trust the source of any information found on the open Internet.

Find audio and video resources

All audio and video resources can be found in the I-Share cataog. Search by author, title of subject just as you would for a book.

Evaluate what you find

The material you have gathered may have come from a variety of sources. Find out from your instructor what types of material are acceptable for your assignment. Often instructors will want material from scholarly journals as opposed to material from popular magazines. If you have gathered any information from a web site, be sure it is from a reputable source. Examples of reputable sources are government sources, college or university sources or professional associations in a particular field, such as the American Medical Association.

Cite what you find using a standard format

Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources. Knowingly representing the work of others as your own is plagiarism. There are many different citation format styles. Ask your instructor what style format to use. The two major styles are Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA). The MLA link is courtesy of the Writers' Workshop, part of the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois. The APA page is used through the courtesy of the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.