Skip to Main Content

Research Success Toolkit: Getting Started

This guide is designed to help you better understand the research process and how to find, evaluate and use information for your course assignments.

A Strategy for Success

Finding information for course-related assignments is an integral part of your college experience. For many students, research is an overwhelming task. By developing a research strategy when you receive an assignment, you can break the process up into more manageable tasks. Below are three essential questions to consider as you begin to develop a research strategy.  

1.What is the assignment?

2.What sources should I consult?

3.What are the most appropriate information sources to use?

There are many resources available to you but many are not authoritative or scholarly. Become familiar with the library resources or ask a librarian what resources are available to you and which are appropriate for your research project! 

Writing a Thesis Statement

Writing a thesis is one of the most challenging tasks in working on a research paper and will focus the direction of your work. Below are some websites to help give you some pointers!

Need Help?

If you need help, please let us know! Ask A Librarian by email. 

To schedule an appointment for research help, Book a Librarian

Can't get into the databases? Go to the Off-Campus Instructions for assistance with the library resources off-campus.


Handouts to Help You!

Getting Real: The Emotional Side of Doing Research

The process of finding information can present many challenges and one of the most highly cited models for the information seeking process in library and information science is the Information Search Process (ISP), developed by Carol Collier Kuhlthau, Professor II Emerita for the Department of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University. According to Kuhlthau's research website, the process of gathering information can be an emotional journey, often guided by feelings, thoughts and actions. Kuhlthau's research states that information seekers may experience uncertainty, frustration, confusion, doubt and optimism throughout the process of gathering information. Be prepared for the research journey to take you on detours! 

While research can be overwhelming and frustrating at times, it can also be rewarding! Keep in mind the following when beginning a new research assignment:

  • Don't wait until the last minute to start your paper or project!
  • Be realistic. Don't expect your research paper or project to be effortless! The research process does take some thought and time and you may need to change your strategy or even your topic.
  • If you have the choice of a topic, you may consider chosing one that you feel passionate or angry about.
  • Make sure you understand what you are expected to do in completing the assignment.
  • Develop a strategy to complete the assignment but be prepared to adjust this strategy as you encounter challenges.
  • Don't go to Google or Wikipedia immediately! The library provides access to many authoritative sources and tools that you should use first.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help! Librarians can help you find appropriate resources for your research assignment and we want you to ask! Your success is our priority.


What kinds of resources can be used for research?

Below are examples of sources that can be used for research for course assignments. Always check with your professor if you have questions! 

Databases: These are authoritative resources that index citations or full-text availability of articles, often in PDF format, on a wide variety of subjects. You can go directly to Primo to search most MCTC Library databases!. Databases can also provide access to specific formats and information content such as photographs, graphs, videos or audio files. The MCTC library subscribes to many databases, such as ProQuest, and provides access to EBSCOHost through the Kentucky Virtual Library. NOTE: Take notice of the TYPE of journal article you are looking at online! Some are scholarly, professional journals while others are written for the general population. A number of sources found in databases are REVIEWS or COMMENTARIES so make sure you are choosing the type of source that is best suited to your research assignment. 

Newspapers: These are available in the library in print and through backdates and online through our Newspaper Resources guide.

Government publications: Many such reports and documents are available online through trusted websites such as the U.S. GPO and United States Census Bureau. States and local municipalities also publish information online.

Audiovisual resources: Videos, DVDs, books on CD and audio CDs are available to check out at your campus libraries. MCTC Library also provides online A/V resources such as Encyclopedia Britannica Media Collection and Library of Congress Digital Collection.

Primary documents: These include photographs, letters, diaries, speeches and other first-hand accounts (see boxes below). 

Various websites: Try to determine who is producing the information. Wikipedia is a source to be used cautiously and is best used for finding original sources listed at the end of each article for further reference. 

Personal Interviews: There may be times when you will need to interview someone with specific, first-hand knowledge to gather information. An interview should be cited in academic papers you write for college. 

Whatever sources you use, be sure to include the correct citation of each source within your paper and on your works cited page! 

Primary v. Secondary Sources

Doing research can involve looking for different types of sources, such as primary and secondary sources. Be familiar with the differences between these two types of sources.

  • Primary Sources: Primary sources are original historical records such as letters, manuscripts, diaries, memoirs, speeches, interviews, government documents, photographs, audio recordings and oral histories, videos or other objects or artifacts relating to historical events or works of art. records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include
  • Secondary Sources: Secondary sources are documents written based on the information provided by primary sources and offer historical perspective or an author's interpretation or analysis. Examples of these kinds of sources include journal and magazine articles, newspaper articles, books, encyclopedias and textbooks.

What are peer-reviewed journals and why should I care?

Peer-reviewed journals, or refereed journals, are more commonly published electronically but these titles are published by and for a particular professional audience to provide current research in a field of work. Therefore, the focus of a peer-reviewed journal is narrow, covering only certain topics. For articles to be published, the author(s) work must meet certain criteria set by the journal and the work must be reviewed by other professionals, or "peers," in the field who agree on the validity of the work. This review process ensures that the article is accurate and relevant to the journal's audience. Peer-reviewed journals can present ground-breaking research and discovery to potentially bring about new and innovative approaches to a profession. 

Peer-reviewed journals differ in several ways from general-audience publications. Below are features you will commonly see in these kind of professional publications: 

Authority: The author(s) credentials are often included to indicate their expertise and knowledge in the field of work. 

Abstract: This is a summary of the article and the main ideas that will be presented, including the methodology and conclusions of the research.  

Specialized language: A peer-reviewed journal will often use specific terminology and technical terminology used in a professional community, assuming that the audience is already knowledgeable with this language. 

Methodology: Peer-reviewed journal articles may provide original research, experiments or studies done in the field. The article will provide background information, an overview of the methods used in the research, results and discussion, and conclusions. 

In-text citations: Other journal articles and sources are frequently referenced within peer-reviewed journals. This is the process of how information is created and how scholarship and knowledge is advanced. 

Supporting Images: Scholarly articles often contain diagrams, charts, graphs, or other visual representations to provide additional documentation of the research presented. 

References: This page is provided at the end of the article to provide a full citation of all sources cited within the text of the paper. 

Volume and Issue: Professional journals typically publish a volume annually, and assign issue number by month or quarter in most cases. The volume and issue of an article are an essential piece of its citation. For example, Volume 5, Issue 2 of a journal would be denoted as 5(2) in the citation. 

Lack of advertising: Peer-reviewed journals may have little or no advertising. The journals rely on the work and contributions of the authors/creators to have content to publish. The journals can be published in different and complex ways, such as through a publisher that makes the content available through a subscription or through open-access journals that allow professionals to view the research at no cost. 

For more information about peer-reviewed, or scholarly articles, view Anatomy of a Research Article by Stephanie Wiegand, University of Northern Colorado. 

Check these out!

Below is a list of reference books located within the MCTC Libraries to help you properly cite your resources.

Tips for Reading Critically

When reading or working on an assignment, you should conduct your research with a critical eye. As you read or view your research sources, consider not only the content provided by the writer(s) but its purpose and how it is written. Consider the who is the audience for which it was written and evaluate the supporting information provided by the author. Does the author use unbiased or emotionally-charged language? Learn to distinguish between fact and interpretation. Draw your own conclusions!