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Library Research Guide

This library research guide is designed for students beginning research projects at UNR.

This guide will help you: You'll also learn how to:

View and print a "Library Research Log" to record your topic statement, keywords and the information you find. You may also download the "Research Log" in generic word processor format.

If you need help finding your way around the Knowledge Center, take our audio tour, available from the floor plans page.

STEP 1: Identify and Develop Your Research Topic

  • State your topic as a question.
  • Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question
  • Identify the synonyms and other related words
Questions Keywords Synonyms & Related Words
What effect does alcohol abuse have on college students? alcohol abuse, college students alcoholism, binge drinking, young adults
What are the consumer risks of online shopping? consumer risks, online shopping Internet, electronic commerce, data encryption
Does globalization lower workers' wages and export jobs? globalization, workers, wages, jobs international economic relations, labor


  • Use the keywords and synonyms/related words you have identified as search terms.

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STEP 2: Find General Information

With the keywords, synonyms and related words that you identified as search terms in Step 1, begin your search with printed or online encyclopedias such as Britannica Online, and other reference sources, including subject-specific handbooks and directories. Articles in encyclopedias will help you refine your topic and focus the context of your research. Note any relevant citations to books, articles and other information in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles.

As you read, identify additional keywords that are relevant to your interest. Search for further information using newly identified keywords, synonyms and related words. If you need help, check with a reference librarian or your instructor.

Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks and course reserve readings.

More General Information Sources:

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STEP 3: Use the UNR Library Catalog to Find Books and More

The Library Catalog identifies books, journals, videos, and other materials available in the UNR, Western Nevada Community College (WNC), and Desert Research Institute (DRI) Libraries.

Search the Library Catalog using these categories:

Using words that describe your topic (identified in Steps 1 & 2 above), perform a Subject Search in the Library Catalog. Print or write down the citation (author, title, etc.), call number and location you wish to find in the library. Note the circulation status of the book or other item. When you get the item from the shelf, review its bibliography for more potential sources.

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STEP 4: Use Indexes to Find Periodical Articles

Periodicals are magazines, newspapers and journals, either in printed form or on the Web. Articles in scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals usually analyze topics in greater depth than do articles in popular magazines. The methods of research and analysis used by scholarly authors adhere closely to the standards of their particular disciplines, (e.g. Engineering, History or Medicine).

To find periodical articles, visit the Library's list of Databases, Electronic Journals, and Other Resources by Subject or use the Reference area's printed indexes. Using online or printed indexes and abstracts allows you to identify citations to articles on a topic of interest. For help with choosing an index appropriate to your topic, ask at the Main Reference Desk.

Further discussion of indexes and how to choose them is available here: "What Index Should I Use?"

In order to use these subscription-based services from off campus, you must be a UNR student, faculty, or staff member with a current library card. Instructions for off-campus access.

If the full text of an article is not available online, copy or print the citation from the index and search for the magazine or journal title using the library catalog's Journal and Newspaper Title Search. If you do not find the magazine of journal title in the catalog, check the Library's lists of full-text electronic journals. You may wish to use Interlibrary Loan Services to borrow books or obtain copies of articles not available at UNR.

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STEP 5: Find Web Resources and Evaluate What You Find

Web search engines and subject directories are two different ways of organizing information on the World Wide Web.

The UNR Library search page features some well-known and powerful Web search engines.

The Library's list of Databases, Electronic Journals, and Other Resources by Subject is an example of a subject directory.

Frequently, the pages you find in a web search will contain links to other relevant sites. Once you have found some pertinent Internet sources, you should evaluate their credibility and usefulness for your purpose. While it is necessary to evaluate all information one uses, it is especially necessary to do so when using information found on the Internet, where there is often no fact-checking or editorial control. See Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources and Thinking Critically about Web 2.0 and Beyond for guidelines on evaluating this type of information.

A Point to Consider:

   Computers Don't Give You What You Want —
   They Only Give You What You Ask For.

—Carla List, Plattsburgh State University, New York

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STEP 6: Cite the Information You Find

Unless otherwise instructed, use the Modern Language Association's MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (located at the Main Library's Reference Desk) to write bibliographic citations to the books, articles, and other information sources you used. This manual includes sample citations for a variety of information sources, including books, articles and Web sites. Further examples are available at the Modern Language Association's Web site (click on the button for MLA style). MLA is the preferred style manual for English and Humanities papers.

More style manuals and guides are available at the Main Library's Reference Desk or via the Library's Style Guides for Research Papers.

  • Do you need help clarifying your topic?
  • Do you know where to look next?

When In Doubt…

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