Research Paper Assistance

Research Paper Assistance

Find a Topic

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.

  • 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

Find Books

Use the Library's online catalog, the MERLIN Catalog, to find books on your topic.

  • The MERLIN Catalog provides access to over 3 million volumes.
  • You can search the MERLIN Catalog by author, title, keyword, subject, table of contents, etc.
  • To find books on your topic, search the MERLIN Catalog using keywords.

Keyword Search

Use the Keyword search option when you don't know the author, title, or the Library of Congress subject heading for your topic. In a keyword search, multiple words are searched as one phrase, e.g., endangered species. Single keywords or concepts can be combined using Boolean operators (and, or, not) to broaden the search and parenthesis can be used to nest keywords.


  • internet and commerce
  • internet or world wide web
  • environmental policy and not united states
  • (internet or world wide web) and commerce

Keyword searching is broad and flexible, but not very precise. For more precise searching, click on the Library of Congress subject headings assigned to relevant books retrieved by doing a keyword search.

Subject Search

Use the subject search when you know the Library of Congress subject heading for your topic.

Example: Electronic commerce — United States

Request books not available in MU Libraries from other MERLIN libraries, the MOBIUS Union Catalog, or by using Interlibrary Loan.


Find Articles


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.


  • Academic Search Premier
  • MasterFile Elite
  • LexisNexis Academic (Newspapers)

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.


  • PsycINFO (Psychology topics)
  • Sociological Abstracts (Sociology topics)
  • ERIC (Education topics)
  • MLA (Literary criticism)
  • America: History and Life (American History topics)
  • Historical Abstracts (World history topics)
  • ABI Inform (Business)

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.


  • college AND scholarships
  • colleges OR universities
  • Mexico NOT New Mexico

Most databases allow you to limit or focus your search results. Common limits used in database are:

  • By publication date
  • By language
  • By peer reviewed or scholarly journals
  • By full text
  • By publication title

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.


  • politic* would retrieve political, politician(s), politicking, politically, politics, etc.
  • Some databases are completely full-text or have some full-text articles. Full-text indicates that the complete journal or magazine article is in the database.
  • Many databases link to the full-text of the article through FindIt@MU.
  • Most databases allow you to mark selected articles so that you can print, download, or email your selected articles.
  • Most databases have the help feature. It is a good idea to read the help screens before beginning a search.

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.

Go to the MU Libraries Gateway and click on Find a Specific Article/Journal to see if a periodical title is available electronically in

  • If not available electronically, select the MERLIN Library Catalog in the resulting screen display to find periodicals owned by MU Libraries. FindIt@MU will automatically search for the periodical in the catalog.
  • If a print copy is not available, select Request through Interlibrary Loan/Request a Copy.

If searching the MERLIN Library Catalog, select the Journal, Magazine, and Newspaper Titles search option.

  • Type the exact name of the periodical title.
  • Look at the periodical record.
  • Look at the "LIB HAS" heading to find out if the library has the volume of the periodical you are looking for.
  • Identify the location and call number of the periodical. Next use the Location Guide to find the floor location of the periodical.

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)


Google & More


  • Use Google to locate information on the web.
  • 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.


Evaluate information



Cite sources


Guides for the Most Commonly Used Citation Styles

Guides Specific to Citing Online Information Sources

Interactive Citation Builders and Reference Management Tools

Additional Citation Guides

Plagiarism and Copyright

Research Tips

  • 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

Need Help?

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!