Research Process Guide - Library & Learning Resources - City College of San Francisco
Go to the CCSF library's main page Find Books using the library's Catalog Find Articles in periodical & reference databases Search the web Library information, frequently asked questions Go to main CCSF web page

Choosing a Topic

Finding Background Information

Finding Books

Finding Articles

Finding Web Resources

Evaluating Sources

Citing Sources

Additional Help

The Steps of the Research Process



STEP I: CHOOSING & NARROWING A TOPIC

1. State your topic as a question.

What effect does genetically engineered food have on the health of consumers?

2. Identify the main concepts.

genetically engineered foods AND health AND consumers
3. Select alternative keywords for main concepts.

MAIN CONCEPTS
ALTERNATIVE TERMS
genetically altered foods GMO (genetically modified organisms)
biotechnology and food
genetically engineered
health and safety food safety
hazard(ous)
well being
consumers public
people


4. Test your topic.

Search for your keywords in the Library Catalog or in background sources like encyclopedias.

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STEP II: FIND BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Background and introductory information places a research topic into a greater context. Lecture notes, textbooks, and reference books such as encyclopedias and almanacs make up important background information.

  1. Look up keywords in the index of an encyclopedia, find the entry, and don't forget to take note of the bibliography at the end of the article for further readings.

  2. Browse the Library's reference collection in the corresponding call number area. Read articles in the sources you find to set the context of your research. Pay close attention to the vocabulary the authors use.

  3. Search for bibliographies on your topic in the Library Catalog by conducting a subject search on your topic followed by Bibliography. Example: Human Rights -- Bibiolgraphy

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STEP III: FIND BOOKS IN THE LIBRARY CATALOG

Books provide broader, more extensive information on a given topic. The Library Catalog allows you to search for books in any of the City College Libraries/Learning Resource Centers. The materials located in the library where you are working appear in bold text on the screen. You will notice many ways to search, such as Title, Author, Subject, Subject Keyword, etc.

  • Use KEYWORD searching for narrowly defined or complex topics.

  • Use SUBJECT searching for broader or more standard subjects.

  • Write down the CALL NUMBER to locate a book on the shelf in the library.

The Library at City College of San Francisco uses the Library of Congress classification system. This system classifies the materials in the collection by subject. For a more detailed look at the system, browse the Library of Congress Classification Outline.

To find books in other libraries around the Bay Area, follow the link Other Libraries on the CCSF Library Homepage.


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STEP IV: FIND PERIODICAL ARTICLES

Current and specific information is found in articles in periodicals (magazines, journals, or newspapers). Articles are often used to update and support the information in books.

The most effective way to find articles on a given topic is to use an index. In the past, a researcher would have to rely on a print index to find articles on a given topic, write down the citation, then go to the stacks to find the article in the print version of the given periodical. This method is still used for retrospective or historical research. However, today we have periodical databases which index articles by subject and oftentimes provide the full text of the article online.


  • Select one of the periodical databases available from the CCSF Library Homepage.

  • Search the database using the keywords from your research question.

  • Both scholarly and popular periodicals are available. Decide what level of scholarship you must have for research by consulting Scholarly Journals v. Popular Magazines.

  • If the full text of the article is available through the database, print or email the article to yourself.

  • If only the citation is available, you can:

    • Check the CCSF Periodicals Holdings List to see whether the print version is available at one of the CCSF libraries.

    • Search Other Libraries catalogs in the Bay Area to see whether they carry the periodical containing your article.

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STEP V: FIND INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET

A wealth of information exists on the Internet. Because anyone can publish anything on the Internet, it is important to critically evaluate what you find.

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STEP VI: EVALUATE WHAT YOU FIND

Evaluating the information you find is a critical step in the research process, regardless of whether you find the information in a book, an article or on a webpage. Each source must be looked at in terms of authority, usefulness, and reliability. You must gain a general understanding for the purpose and quality of the information as well as the value it has in the context of your research topic. The following webpages can assist you in determining how to critically analyze what you find.

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STEP VII: CITE WHAT YOU FIND

  It is important to give credit to the ideas of others. The reader can then verify the materials you used to reach your conclusions. Documentation also places your written work within the context of a given body of knowledge.

  • It is important to cite what you find when you find it! You may need to find it later.

  • Use a standard citation format, such as style guides from Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), or Turabian/Chicago style.

  • Handouts summarizing some of the basic citation formats for APA and MLA are available at the Reference Desk or online.

  • Other more extensive citation guides are available online also!

  • Citation Manuals available at the library include:

    • Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. New York: MLA, 1998. (PN 147 G444 1998, Rosenberg, John Adams, Statler REFERENCE).

    • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington: APA, 2001. (BF 76.7 B83 2001, Rosenberg, John Adams REFERENCE).

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ADDITIONAL HELP

For additional help you may contact the Reference Desk by phone at (415) 452-5543 or stop by the East and West reference desks at the Rosenberg Library.

eRef
Electronic Reference Service to CCSF students, faculty, staff and registered community users. Use this service when you are NOT in a CCSF library.

Library and Web Research Workshops
FIfty minute workshops are given throughout the semester on effective methods in searching for books, articles and information on the Internet.

Evaluating and Citing Information Sources
Several useful sources for evaluating the quality of web pages, how to prepare citations for a "Bibliography" or "Works Cited" list, and how to avoid plagiarism.

Purdue's Online Writing Lab
One of the most thorough and easy to navigate writing labs online!

A+ Research and Writing
Hosted by the Internet Public Library.






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Copyright Library & Learning Resource Center, City College of San Francisco
Last updated September 10, 2003

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