Western Kentucky University

Five-Step Guide to Do Research in WKU Libraries

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The following is a five-step approach to doing research in the WKU Libraries. Although this guide takes a generalist approach, it can be applied to any discipline. Questions that should be going through your mind as you are researching are addressed.

1. Define Your Topic

What is it that you want to research? Find general information about the topic in specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks to get a good feel for your topic. Search TOPCAT to find these. Initiate a subject search by clicking on the Search button , selecting the radio button and typing [your subject] dictionaries (Leave a space between your subject and dictionaries) or[your subject] encyclopedias. Make sure that your subject term is a valid Library of Congress Subject Heading. If you are not retrieving titles, or you are unsure about your heading, consult the Library of Congress Subject Heading books. They are the "big red books" that are near all TOPCAT 2000 workstations. You may find that you have to narrow or broaden your topic. For example, if you are looking for information on child abuse, you may have to look in a sociology or criminal justice encyclopedia.

2. Identify Appropriate Indexes & Bibliographies

You must learn which print indexes and abstracting services cover your topic. Additionally, there are indexes on CD-ROM and web accessible databases that should be searched. Which indexes cover journals? Newspapers? Primary source materials? Books? Do you know how to search TOPCAT 2000? Bibliographies may be found by performing a specific search on TOPCAT 2000, HEADING - Subject [your subject bibliographies]. Has a research guide been created for your topic?

3. Locate and Retrieve Materials

Once you have found citations to materials you would like to use, you must check to see if WKU Libraries owns the material. Search TOPCAT for the libraries' holdings. The TOPCAT 2000 record will tell you if the item is checked out or at the bindery. Do you know where to find the material? Is it in Cravens stacks? Periodicals? Reference? Kentucky Library? Government Documents? Remember, if you are looking for a government document it will not be on TOPCAT 2000. Check the document indexes or ask for assistance at the reference desk. If the library does not have what you need, is Interlibrary Loan an option? If you want to check materials out, you must have a valid WKU ID card or Friends of the Libraries card.

4. Evaluate the Materials You Have Found

This is a very important step and yet it is ignored far too often. Ask yourself questions such as: Is the information really telling you what you want to know? Is the author reliable? Do you know how to find information about people? Is the information outdated (an old copyright date does not mean the information is not good)? How well has the book been received by the professional community? Do you know how to find book reviews? How often has the work been cited? What about WWW sites? See Critically Evaluating Web Resources.

5. Write and Cite

Librarians will instruct you in the use of indexes and other library resources and help you locate materials. They will not write your papers. There are a variety of writing handbooks and guides available for your use. Some are owned by the libraries, others are available on the WWW.

It is very important to provide citations for resources you use. Style manuals will explain how to do this and your discipline will dictate which manual to use. If you are unsure which style to use, ask your professor.

Still confused? Ask for help at the Reference Area.

 Last Modified 7/24/13