Getting Started on your Research

Starting a research assignment can be daunting. Deciding on a topic, what sources to use, and what's available on your topic at the library are all questions that must be addressed before you can really get into the research process. The following page might help you understand some of the steps in the research process and what tools you might use that are available at the CSUS library. In addition, check out this page about the research process for the social sciences:

A Visual Example of the Research Process

click inside the triangle to find out more about the research process.

A graphic example of the research process in the form of an inverse triangle. The tip of the base of the pyramid, at the top, talks about using research guides and asking Librarians for help. Below that is using EUREKA to find books. Below that is using general databases to find articles on a research topic. Below that is using subject specific databases to get more precise information on a topic. The last step is assessing and evaluating the information found. The image is mapped and links to more information on each point.

1. Before the library select your topic.

This may seem like a real no brainer, but having a topic or research concept in mind means that you will be able to direct your research efforts towards that topic rather than wasting time at the library using resources with no concept of what you are writing about. So, decide on a general topic and begin thinking about how you might narrow down by focusing on a more specific aspect of the topic.

Write down a thesis statement and find the core elements of that search. ex: With an increase in the population of cities, there has been a corresponding increase in crime rates. One solution to reducing crime in urban areas is community policing. In this topic the core themes are population growth and cities, crime rates and cities, and community policing and crime abatement. This can serve as a guide for how to begin your search at the library.

Creating an outline of your research paper can help you figure out your topic and subtopics, as well as help you figure out what research material is needed to complete the paper. The CSUS Writing Center may be able to help you organize your ideas.

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2. Check to see if there is a specialized librarian guide for your topic.

The Librarians at CSUS have created specialized research guides online to help students do research on specific topics. These include lists of what specialized research tools are available on your topic, what databases might be useful, as well as web sites and other resources. Once you've identified a research topic check this link to see if there is a Librarian Guide on your topic.

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3. Use specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference sources

Often a great place to begin doing research will be specialized reference sources. The library has some of these on every topic available. Specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries contain valuable background information that might give you ideas as how to narrow your topic, as well as contain bibliographies that can direct you to other sources on that topic.

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4. Find books in EUREKA

Check the EUREKA catalog for books on your topic. Books are often great places for an overview of a topic or exhaustive research on a topic. In addition, books often contain extensive bibliographies of the sources that they used to conduct the research, which might be valuable for your research as well.

Click on this link to get to EUREKA:

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5. Locate journal articles using databases and indexes

What the heck is a database? Databases are indexes to journal articles online. The CSUS Library has both general databases ( that cover every topic as well as databases on specific subjects (

Journal articles are a valuable source of information because they are often more current than the books on a given topic. In addition, they tend to focus on more specific topics than books. Finally, like books, they contain bibliographies of other sources on the same topic that might be useful for your research.

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6. Assess what you've found

At this point in the research process you might have a stack of books and articles in front of you. It is now time to look at what you have and try to determine if its enough to write your paper. Often you cannot tell if what you have is enough, so begin working from the outline you created in step one and start writing. Sometimes students gather information throughout the whole term and do not give themselves enough time to evaluate and synthesize the information, so beginning the writing process can help you not only get your ideas on paper, but also help you figure out if you need more information or have enough to complete the assignment. Also consult the CSUS Writing Center for help in editing your paper for grammer and focus.

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7. If more information is needed repeat steps 2-6

It is not a big deal to have to repeat some or all of the steps detailed above to get your research assignment done. It is better to have a strong overall research product to turn in, rather than a research paper that is strong in some areas and weak in others. Repeating the steps can also help you find sources of information that you may have missed on prior attempts.

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