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Basic Academic Research: Home

This LibGuide covers skills, strategies, and materials employed in basic academic research: the sorts of assignments often given to lower division (freshman and sophomore) students in the first two years of college.

Page Overview

This page offers basic library information and explains research as a concept.  It also offers some general advice applicable to nearly all research assignments.

For additional information on research, consult the following LibGuides:


Graduate Research       

Research Foundations Tutorial (recommended)

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John Upchurch
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Houston Cole Library
Jacksonville State University
700 Pelham Rd N
Jacksonville, AL 36265

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What is Research?

Research is the systematic investigation of a topic, thereby adding to the knowledge in the field or academic discipline by making a new discovery, filling a gap in what is already known, or providing a new interpretation to what is already known. defines research as "The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions."

Research is:

  • a process, not an event; a large task composed of stages, and within stages, incremental steps
  • systematic, not random;  stages in the process are planned and from project to project are fairly uniform in the order in which they are taken on​
  • dynamic, not static; structured, yet flexible enough to accommodate and adjust to randomly-encountered variables or even change direction completely should the evidence discovered warrant it​

The three principal academic disciplines of social sciences, sciences, and humanities each have their own standard templates for research, which most upper-division university students begin to encounter with the major field courses begun their junior year.

Why do Research?

1) Research is a marketable skill which can give you a competitive advantage when job-seeking.

2)  Research helps you make wise life decisions in choosing health care, purchasing a home or automobile, even deciding which movie to see or where to dine afterward.    

3)  You've been doing it your whole life.  Every time you've used critical thinking to help you reach a decision, you've performed steps in the research process.  The difference between life research and academic research is one of degree, not of kind.

Characteristics of a Well-written Paper

Although there are many details that must be given attention in writing a research paper, there are three major criteria which must be met.  A well-written paper is

  • Unified:  the paper has only one major idea; or, if it seeks to address multiple points, one point is given priority and the others are subordinated to it.
  • Coherent: the body of the paper presents its contents in a logical order easy for readers to follow; use of transitional phrases (in addition, because of this, therefore, etc.) between paragraphs and sentences is important.
  • Complete:  the paper delivers on everything it promises and does not leave questions in the mind of the reader; everything mentioned in the introduction is discussed somewhere in the paper; the conclusion does not introduce new ideas or anything not already addressed in the paper.

Library Tutorials/Helpful Videos

Tips for Doing Research

10. Don’t wait till the last moment to start your research!
Research is long and semesters are short: set up a timetable for completing your research assignment, and stick with it.

9. Electronic research is a word game.
The quality of your results depends on the words you type in the search box; try various terms to improve the accuracy of your searches. Consult with a librarian about using  AND and OR to combine groups of search terms, truncation (wild card searching), phrase searching, search limiters, and other more sophisticated approaches to digital searching.

8. Google doesn’t have everything.
Google only provides access to a fraction of what's "out there".  While there is some overlap among them, books, electronic databases, and the internet all have their unique strengths (and weaknesses).  Skilled researchers learn the appropriate use of all three information p[ortals.

7. Use Advanced Search features.
Many databases include “Advanced Searching.” By using it, you can quickly and easily improve the accuracy of your searches—and have fewer but higher quality search results.

6. A lot of things aren’t online at all.
Many books, articles, documents, videos, etc. are not available online; see #8 above. Contact a librarian to help you help you find these things.

5. Use Wikipedia—and other encyclopedias—carefully.
Encyclopedias can be great places to get beginning background info, and for references to major books, articles, etc. on a topic. But they’re usually not something you can use as one of your sources for a paper or other project.

4. Evaluate! Evaluate! Evaluate!
Don’t believe everything you read. Or see. Or hear. It’s up to you to determine if the information you are using is reliable or not. Librarians can assist you with your evaluation of this information.

3. Research is not a straight line.
It's a process, a spiral, an evolution. One piece of new info can take you back to places you've already been or to someplace you never imagined you'd be.  Expect to change course, even reverse direction, from time to time.

2. Find more sources than you think you’ll need.
Some sources that you’ll find just won’t work for your research needs. But, if you collect “extra” sources at the beginning, you probably won’t have to backtrack and re-do your searches later.

1. Ask a Librarian!
Don’t get frustrated.  Ask for help in person, by phone, via email, or onlinel.  Make an appointment.  Just Ask!  Treat librarians as research consultants and advisers for research assignments.  It's what we do.

[Based on a list compiled by HCL 2nd floor librarian Charlcie Pettway-Vann.]