Research Paper Assistance
Begin at the MU Libraries Gateway. (Remember that MU faculty, students, and staff can access library databases when connecting from off-campus.) MU Libraries include Ellis Library (main library) and several branch libraries. If you are unfamiliar with the libraries, you may explore some of them through virtual tours.
Choose a topic that interests you and is appropriate for your assignment
Scan books, articles, web sites, textbooks and browse general databases, e.g., Academic Search Premier, Academic OneFile, etc. Here are some suggestions for specific reference works we've found to be especially helpful:
Test your topic and do background reading
Test your topic by looking it up in the MERLIN Catalog, Databases, and appropriate background sources. Encyclopedias, specialized dictionaries, textbooks, bibliographies provide overviews of topics or research problems. Read articles in encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Note bibliographies at the end of encyclopedia articles. Write out significant ideas, concepts, keywords related to your topic.
Develop questions to guide your search
Examples: What are the effects of television on children? What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?
List main terms/synonyms or concepts that describe your topic
These terms can be used as keywords or subject headings to search various databases.
Example: alcoholic beverages or drinking or alcoholic consumption or imbibe
Determine the type of information source(s) you need to answer your research question
Each source provides a different type of information, e.g., encyclopedias and books are good for overviews of topics, journals, books and proceedings are good for scholarly research, etc.
Choose appropriate resources
Books — provide in-depth coverage of a topic, currency varies, content varies from general discussion to detailed analysis.
Example: The Big Boys: power and position in American business
Magazines — cover popular topics and current affairs, geared to general public, very current coverage.
Examples: Time, Newsweek, Vogue, Sports Illustrated
Journals — report results of original research, case studies, statistical analysis, etc. written by and geared to specialists in the field.
Example: Journal of Psychology
- Books — provide in-depth coverage of a topic, currency varies, content varies from general discussion to detailed analysis.
Use the Library's online catalog, the MERLIN Catalog, to find books on your topic.
Google searches are not usually the best way to find the full spectrum of high-quality articles because publishers keep articles "under lock and key." The library's databases and online and print journal collections provide you the key. Follow these steps to find the best articles for your topic.
Choose a database
The most efficient way to search for articles on your topic is to use one of the many electronic databases or print indexes. Databases and indexes contain references to articles in magazines, newspapers, and/or journals (scholarly periodicals).
General Databases (Multi-disciplinary) are good for a variety of subjects and generally serve as an excellent starting point for research. They include magazine, journal, and newspaper articles.
Specialized or Subject-Specific Databases index articles published in the journal literature of a specific field like nursing, psychology, sociology, etc. These databases contain peer-reviewed articles and are geared to scholars in the field. For many of your classes, you may be required to use scholarly sources found in specialized databases.
You can select a databases from the alphabetical list or from the subject list (under Databases tab on the gateway). The Alphabetical list of databases includes both general and specialized databases. Select a Subject area to identify databases for that subject.
If you have trouble finding the right database for your topic, consult a librarian.
Construct Your Search
Most databases default to a keyword or a basic search, i.e., they allow for individual words to be searched anywhere (text, title, source, author, etc.) in a record. An Advanced Keyword search broadens a search, allows use of any word, searches all fields, etc.
Most databases allow you to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine terms. AND narrows a search, OR broadens a search, and NOT eliminates term(s). Commonly a * or other truncation symbol will let you search for all terms beginning with a set of letters.
Most databases allow you to limit or focus your search results. Common limits used in database are:
Most databases allow you to truncate words. Truncation allows you to search a word stem with different endings. The truncation symbols (e.g., * # !, etc.) vary from database to database, though * is most common. Consult the help feature in a database to determine the truncation symbol for the database.
Subject searching in databases requires the use of special terms unique to each database. A subject search narrows a search and searches only the subject field of a record.
Find Full Text
The MU Libraries have periodicals in print, on microfilm, and in electronic format. Current periodicals at MU are shelved alphabetically by their title in Current Periodicals Reading Room (CPRR, 1st Floor West, Ellis Library) and older periodicals are shelved with the books in library stacks by their call number.
If searching the MERLIN Library Catalog, select the Journal, Magazine, and Newspaper Titles search option.
How can you tell if the article is from a popular magazine or a scholarly journal?
Check out this website: Popular magazines vs. Trade magazines vs. Scholarly journals (Colorado State University Library)
- Use Google to locate information on the web.
- Use Google Scholar to search scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles. You can access Google Scholar from home by following the steps to implement full-text links for off-campus use.
- Use Google Books to search full-text of books. Google is digitizing books from several major libraries.
- Be choosy about resources you find on the Internet. Quality and validity are not assured when anyone can publish anything, anytime, without the benefit of scholarly peer review.
- Critical evaluation of resources (University of California, Berkeley)
- Evaluating information found on the Internet (Johns Hopkins University)
Evaluating Web Content (SUNY-Albany)
Free research sites
Blogs and wikis
Social networking sites
Guides for the Most Commonly Used Citation Styles
- Citing sources for a bibliography (APA, Chicago, MLA, Turabin, CSE) (Duke University)
- Citing Sources within your paper (APA,Chicago,MLA, Turabin, CSE) (Duke University)
MLA format (University of Illinois)
If you use MLA style, give a try. You input the relevant citation information, and a Java program will produce a citation for you)
- APA format (University of Illinois)
Guides Specific to Citing Online Information Sources
- Style Sheets for Citing Internet & Electronic Resources (UC-Berkeley)
Interactive Citation Builders and Reference Management Tools
- Citation Builder (North Carolina State University)
- EndNote and Reference Manager (MU has licensed these commercial products)
Plagiarism and Copyright
- Copyright Basics
- M-BOOK — Academic Dishonesty (University of Missouri)
- Plagiarism (Indiana University)
- Avoiding Plagiarism (Duke University)
- Copyright & Fair use (Stanford University)
- Additional Plagiarism Resources
- Work from the general to the specific— find background information first, then use more specific and recent sources.
- Record what you find and where you found it— write out a complete citation for each source you find; you may need it again later. You can use a program like EndNote or the Zotero Firefox add-in to help with this.
- Translate your topic into the subject language of the databases and catalogs you use–check your topic words against a thesaurus or subject heading list.
Evaluating Web Resources
- Critiquing Web Resources: How to Separate the Good from the Bad
- Evaluating Web Resources: a Checklist
- Quick Ways to Find Good Websites and Weed Out Bad Ones
Ask a Librarian (chat, email, phone)
- Need help finding an appropriate database?
- Need ideas about where to look next?
- Want to be sure you're using a reference source effectively?
- Recommend resources
- Reference Librarians are located at the Reference Desk, 1st Floor South, Ellis Library in the Information Commons. Reference assistance is also available at all the branch libraries.
Ask your instructor
- Need help clarifying your topic
- Need help understanding the assignment
- Need help narrowing your topic
- Recommend resources
Ask for HELP whenever you need it!