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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.

Guide and Page Overview

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.  Other Guides should be consulted for upper division major field courses.

This page defines and explains research and 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)


Literature Librarian

Harry Nuttall's picture
Harry Nuttall
7th Floor
Houston Cole Library
Jacksonville State University
700 Pelham Rd N
Jacksonville, AL 36265

Tips for coosing a topic

Interest: Choose a topic of interest to you and your reader(s); a boring topic translates into a boring paper.

Knowledge: You can be interested in a topic without knowing much about it at the beginning, but it's a good idea to learn a little about it before you begin your research. Read about the issue in a good encyclopedia or a short article to learn more, then go at it in depth. The research process mines new knowledge – you’ll learn as you go!

Breadth of Topic: How broad is the scope of your topic? Too broad a topic is unmanageable -- for example, "The Education of Children" or "The History of Books" or "Computers in Business." A topic that is too narrow and/or trivial, such as "My Favorite Pastime," is uninteresting and extremely difficult to research.

Guidelines: Carefully follow the instructor's guidelines. If none are provided in writing, ask your professor about his or her expectations. Tell your professor what you might write about and ask for feedback and advice. This should help prevent you from selecting an inappropriate topic.
[Special thanks to HCL 2nd floor librarian Charlcie Pettway-Vann for permission to use this box.]

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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

Research is systematic, not random.

  • stages in process are planned and from project to project are fairly uniform in the order in which they are completed​

Research is 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) Being able to do research is a marketable skill which can give you a competitive advantage when seeking a job.

2)  Being able to do 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 research 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 this and academic research is one of degree, not of kind.

4)  You want to pass the course.


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.

Top Ten Tips for Researching Information

10. Don’t wait till the last moment to start your research!
Research is long and semesters are short: if we don’t have something you need, we can probably get it for you elsewhere, if given enough time.

9. Research is a word game.
Try various terms and techniques to improve the accuracy of your searches: use AND and OR to combine groups of search terms, truncation (wild card searching), phrase searching, search limiters, etc. 

8. Google doesn’t have everything.
Hard to imagine, but Google only provides access to a fraction of 1% of what’s “out there” on the web. Learn to use other tools to find information that’s “invisible” to Google.

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. that aren’t online. Contact us and we’ll help you find them.

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 information also.

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. You may need 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 online chat(Blackboard IM JSU Studentts only), emailEmail.  Make an appointment.  Just Ask!

[Special thanks to HCL 2nd floor librarian Charlcie Pettway-Vann for permission to use this box.]

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