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Isothermal Community College Library: Tips for Efficient Research

Choosing a Topic for Your Paper

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): Choosing a Topic
Grinnell College: Choosing a Research Topic
Sacred Heart University: Choosing a Topic

When you have to choose your own topic for a paper, you can get ideas by visiting a "megasite" where broad topics are listed. Here are some megasites you can check out for topics:

Choosing Appropriate Information Sources

An important step to take before beginning research is to determine what information formats are more likely to have the information you need. 

Consider the Information (Publication) Timeline* and decide what form of information you need to target in your research. Sheridan College provides a succinct explanation of choosing appropriate sources and formats you require for your research - along with other information to help on your foray into academic research

See also Part I of the tutorial Introduction to Information Literacy & Finding Information Using the Library.

* Source: "Research Foundations: The Information Timeline." Seminole State College. 2022. Web. 9 Jan 2023.

Getting Information from Specific Formats

If you need to find information in a particular format, here are some links to start out with.

Books -- search the Isothermal CCLINC Consortium Catalog. More information: How to Use the CCLINC and How Books Are Organized (LC Classification System). 

The CCLINC is a consortium of community college libraries in North Carolina that has a shared catalog with more than a million learning resources, making this library cooperative third in size among the libraries of publicly funded institutions of higher education in North Carolina. This online catalog gives access to the collections at each of the libraries, not just Isothermal's collections. It allows you to search the collection, place items on hold, and check on the status of your personal patron file. The CCLINC (Community College Libraries in North Carolina) catalog circulates approximately 500,000 items per year, and sends/receives more than 7,500 items annually to/from member libraries.

eBooks -- NC LIVE has full-text eBooks. For off-campus use: your password for your Moodle (Isothermal) account access.

Articles -- NC LIVE has full-text articles in magazines, journals and newspapers. For off-campus use: your password for your Moodle (Isothermal) account access.

For finding information on particular subjects, go to Research Guides or to A to Z Online Resources Guide.

Using Search Engines on the Internet

While Google is by far the most popular search engine, there are many other good ones out there. As stated by regents of the University of California-Berkeley Library,

"Not everything on the Web is fully searchable in Google. Overlap studies show that more than 80% of the pages in a major search engine's database exist only in that database. For this reason, getting a "second opinion" can be worth your time. For this purpose, we recommend Yahoo! Search or Exalead. We do not recommend using meta-search engines as your primary search tool." (2012)*   

* Source: "Recommended Search Engines." 2012. Regents of the University of California. UC Berkeley Library. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. 


Using Information Ethically: Avoiding Plagiarism

To use information ethically, your work must be free of plagiarism.

To plagiarize is to use someone else's idea, creation or information without giving proper credit to the person or the group that originated the idea, creation or information. By giving full credit to anyone whose work you have incorporated into your work, you are using information ethically. This is especially important now that you're in the college environment. 

More information on plagiarism: 

Documenting Sources

To learn more about citing (giving credit to) information that you use in your work, see Documenting Resources of Information.

Search Strategy: Synonyms and Related Terms

Before you search for your topic, think of some additional terms that mean the same, or close to the same, as your main search term.

For instance, if someone were interested in finding information about assisted suicide, they could also use a synonym (a word that means exactly the same as the main word), which in this case could be euthanasia. As a related term, they could search for mercy killing, or Dr. Kevorkian, a medical doctor who advocated assisted suicide and helped make the topic famous.

Here is an illustration of how much information you can get by searching for one, two or three terms related to your topic:

The benefits of using multiple search terms


If you need help finding keywords and related terms, the Library of Congress Subject Headings search or can help you find them.

Evaluating Information You Find

Since it is important to use reliable information in completing your college assignments, you need to evaluate the information sources you come across.

The important points to consider in scrutinizing information sources are:

  • Audience
  • Accuracy
  • Bias
  • Credibility
  • Currency 

For more information on using these tools for scrutinizing information, see Evaluating Your Sources* and/or Evaluating Information (PDF document).

Keep in mind that not every source of information on the Internet is reliable. Anyone who figures out how to do it can post anything they want online. The webmaster might be a scholar or someone who just wants to rant about something. 

You can get a clue about websites by the extension on their URL:

  • .aero           = aviation
  • .biz              = business organization
  • .com            = commercial
  • .coop           = cooperative organization
  • .edu             = educational
  • .gov             = U.S. Government 
  • .info             = open domain
  • .int               = international organization
  • .mil              = U.S. Department of Defense
  • .museum     = museum
  • .name          = personal
  • .net              = network
  • .org              = organization
  • .travel          = traveling

Listed below are several sources you can reference to understand the different types of sources and evaluate their quality and relevance to your research. 

City University of Hong Kong: Pick the Best Sources
Cornell University: Critically Analyzing Information Sources
University of California-Berkeley: Evaluating Resources

For more information on evaluating information: 

* Source: Mohanty, Suchi, Lisa Norberg, Kim Vassiliadis, and Tammi Owens. "Evaluate Your Sources." Evaluating Information. Univ. of North Carolina, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

Other Tips

  • Get an overview of your topic by first consulting encyclopedias, dictionaries, or the Internet.
  • Narrow and focus your topic on what interests you as much as possible before beginning your actual search; this will yield a more manageable number of results.
  • Use Shrunk's Elements of Style to help you with your writing (such as grammar, rules of usage, and principles of composition commonly used or violated). Spelling counts!
  • If one of your terms yields no results, try a synonym or similar term. If you don't find enough on any of your search terms, your topic is too narrow; broaden it or change to another topic that interests you.
  • Look for “Advanced Search” in databases and search engines: you can often limit your results there before you even begin searching (i.e., full-text articles only, date range, publication type, etc.)
  • Do the same search query in multiple databases and/or using a variety of Internet search engines.
  • Try “phrase searching” (put “quotation marks” around a string of terms -- a phrase -- in a search box).
  • Don’t assume you already know what you want your exact topic to be; look at your results and see what similar topics might appeal to you more.
  • Be adaptable: learn as you go and vary your approach as you learn,
  • Don’t get bogged down with a strategy that doesn’t work; rethink your direction and keep going!

Information Literacy

This page offers the general what's and how's of information literacy, among other research tips. See the complete Information Literacy page for more specifics, plus the College rubric.

Helpful Information

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