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Introduction to MU Libraries: Beginning a Research Project

Provides an overview of library services and how to do research.

Initiating the Research Process

Selecting a topic and developing a thesis

The first step in starting a research project is to decide what, specifically, you are going to seek information about. One way to come up with topics for research is to think of things, events, ideas, and so on which you are interested in, and then try to develop statements or questions about them. Perhaps, for example, you are interested in learning more about techno music. We might then move on to questions like the following:

  • Where and when did techno music develop?
  • Was it a specific group of people who were most responsible for making it? What did they have in common?
  • Were there specific technological developments which led to it?

The research process will of course be to gather information which provides answers to these questions. Ultimately, if you are writing a research paper for a class, you will typically need to develop a thesis, or main claim, which you will argue for using evidence (the type of evidence necessary will vary based on the type of claim you are defending and the methods of your discipline). You may try to develop your thesis before gathering information about your topic, or perhaps it will emerge out of your research. Continuing with our example above, after doing research pertaining to one of these questions, you might argue that techno is the modern form of a (perhaps unexpected) older musical genre (disco), that it springs from the machine-driven work life of late 20th-century Detroit, etc.

How to start searching

When developing a strategy for finding information pertaining to your topic, you might start by brainstorming a list of key words relating to it. Your topic may involve technical language which is different than, say, popular names used to name or describe it ("bird flu" is also called "avian influenza"), and you will want to include that when submitting search requests to Summon. One way to start is to look at an encyclopedia entry related to your topic, which will help you gather some of these related key words and technical language. Encyclopedias are also valuable for beginning research (since they aim to collect and summarize more complex and detailed treatments, they are not the best sources to use directly) because they have bibliographies (a listing of citations) which you can use to find sources of your own.

Choosing search tools

We have mentioned the library's search engine, which is called Summon. Summon searches through all of the library's various resources, which include printed books, e-books, journals (print and electronic), periodicals, media, microfilm, music scores, and more. This is often a good place to start when researching a topic. Sometimes, however, you may want to search for a very specific item (like a certain book), and it may be more convenient just to search the library's catalog. 

While Summon does search through the resources provided by each of the library's databases, it might nonetheless be useful for you to use a specific database. Commonly used database resources are collected here. If you want to search through a specific database, you might start by looking at our A-Z list of databases.

Citing sources

We mentioned before that when presenting your research (say, in the form of a research paper) that it is crucial to acknowledge the sources from which you have drawn information or arguments included in your paper. (Universities often impose strict penalties for claiming others' work as your own.) In order to cite your sources properly, you should understand that there are a variety of different citation styles, and the style you will need to use for your paper varies based on the discipline you are studying and sometimes the preferences of the professor judging your work. Here are some links to help you create citations in a variety of styles:

  • Quick Guide to APA Style: pdf  web
  • Quick Guide to MLA 7th Style: pdf
  • Quick Guide to MLA 8th Style: pdf
  • Quick Guide to Turabian: pdf
  • Knight Cite (enter citations and receive correct MLA, APA, or Chicago style format): web
  • Zotoro: free Firefox extension helps you collect, manage, and cite your research sources: web
  • EasyBib free automatic bibliography and citation maker: web
  • The MLA Style Center: web
  • The Chicago Manual of Style: web

Citations in Summon



Resources you locate using Summon can be cited easily using its built-in citation tool. Simply click on the quotation mark icon to the right of the resource you wish to use. A prompt will ask you for your citation style, and will then produce a bibliographic entry automatically which you can simply paste into your bibliography or works cited page.