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Research Help


With so much information available to you, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Check out these tips to help you become a better researcher who never intentionally or unintentionally plagiarizes.

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Tips for choosing a topic that is neither too narrow and too broad. And how to use the topic to choose keywords for searches.


Search for credible periodicals (newspaper, magazine, and scholarly journal articles). 


Not all information is created equal. How to evaluate a source's credibility?


All words and ideas from sources need proper citations. What are common types of plagiarism? How do you avoid plagiarism? And How do you do MLA Format?

Topic Selection

Topic Selection

A solid, focused topic will help your research go more smoothly. If a topic is too broad, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to dig through. If it's too broad, you may not find any information at all. It may be tempting to use Google to help you choose a topic. But you may end up spending a lot of time look and end up choosing something that doesn't interest your much. It's better to start with what you already know. Here are few things you can do to choose a better, more interesting topic for your research.


If this is for a class assignment, read the assignment prompt carefully. If your instructor has provided a list of topics, then choosing one is a little easier. Find the one that interests you most. If no topics are provided, you can complete the following process. Click on the arrows to jump to a specific part of the process.


Choose a broad topic and write down everything that you already know. Don't worry about organization.

Mind Map

Organize the ideas from your brainstorm by looking for subtopics. Create a visual map of how the ideas relate.


Choose a branch of your mind map. Write a focused question that  will help you achieve the purpose of the assignment.


If your question isn't getting the results you want, revise it. It may be too broad or too narrow.


Look at the prompt again. Determine what the purpose of the research assignment is: inform, argue, explain, analyze. If it's to inform, ask yourself, "What is something that I think is important that people know, or what is something that I like telling people about?" For example, cooking. Or if your purpose is to argue, ask yourself, "What is a topic that I have strong beliefs on, or what is something really important that you think people should care about?" For example, the environment.


Now, write or type that word. Then write everything that pops into your mind related to that word. Don't worry about connecting your ideas. Just do a brain dump and jot down any idea that enters your head. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to brainstorm.


To create a mind map, place your topic word in the middle of your paper. Then look at your brainstorming. Try to find patterns of ideas: Which words seem to fit in a similar subtopic? For example, for the topic of cooking, you may notice that ideas fit under seasonings, utensils, and recipes. Draw branches off the word "cooking" and label them with these subtopics. Then continue adding branches. Break down the subtopics by adding more ideas from your brainstorming. You may even find that you think of new ideas, and that's great. Add them!


Check out this example of a mind map about cooking, and this mind map about the environment.


Once you've mapped your ideas, it is time to form a question that will guide your research. The question will likely focus on one branch of the map; otherwise, the question may be too broad. When writing the question it's important to keep the assignment's purpose in mind. Let's look at some examples for the topic of cooking.

  • To Inform: How can you maintain a healthy diet by cooking at home?

    • This question asks you to research what a healthy diet is and how to cook healthy at home. ​

    • The question is narrow enough that you know where to focus your research, but it is broad enough that you can consult multiple sources.

  • To Argue: Is eating processed foods a significant factor in the growing obesity numbers in the United States?

    • While this doesn't seem to have a direct link to cooking, maybe you formed the question because your map had ideas about healthy eating and why it's important.​

    • Sometimes a yes or no question is too limiting, but in this case, it's probably okay. It is focused on processed foods and their impact on obesity. It leaves open the possibility that there are other factors that may be more significant.

Helpful Videos about Writing a Research Question


Sometimes in the research process, you may find that your question isn't working for you.


Maybe you are finding too many resources and don't know that to choose. That means your question was too broad.


Maybe you can't find anything on your topic. That probably means the question was too narrow.

Maybe you just find something that is more interesting and that will help you better achieve your research goal.

Whatever the reason, it is okay to change your question. But do remember that your teacher may need to approve the new topic. Let's look at an example.

Let's say that your original research question was "Is obesity a problem in the United States?" When you research this question, you find resources on health impacts, affect on the health care system, mortality rates, childhood obesity, portion sizes, etc. It's a little overwhelming because you can't possibly address all of these in a 5-page research paper. This means the original question is too broad.

Revise the question to "Is eating processed foods a significant factor in the growing obesity numbers in  the United States?" This question accepts that yes, obesity is a problem, but it allows you to argue one aspect of the problem. This is much more manageable for a 5-page essay.

  • You can also check out this graphic novel about how to research using the library catalog, databases, and the internet.

  • Information Now: A Graphic Guide to Student Research and Web Literacy.

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General Research

Tips for Better Searches


Don't type in your entire research question. Choose 2-3 keywords.


Use the predictive topics that pop up in the search bar to choose better keywords


Use advanced search to limit the options or add Boolean operators.


Use the limiters on the left once the results list populates, esp. if more than 200 results are returned.


On a record, look a the subjects listed. This may help with keywords. Not all databases records have this.


Write down the search terms you use. This will help you repeat the search if you need to.


Save relevant articles by emailing the article to yourself. Don't just copy/paste the URL into a document


Databases collect thousands of digital resources, including popular, trade, and scholarly journals. Some databases even provide access to eBooks. Yes, you can find many of the sources on Google, but some of the best information is behind a paywall. The library databases give you access when Google denies you access.


Below are the EBSCO databases that are best for most research tasks. The descriptions should be enough to help you get started. But don't hesitate to ask the librarian if you need it.


MAS Ultra indexes 1000s of articles from newspapers and magazines. Most of the articles come from popular sources. But they still have quality information. Because they are popular sources, they are a little easier to read. So this database gives you quality articles that are more readable.


Academic Search Premier is a database that indexes scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles. It is an excellent database to use for upper-level classes, such as College Credit English and College Credit Speech.


Explora is a database that provides a simple search experience with high-quality articles and videos. It provides easy to browse categories, and some articles even have a read-aloud option.


  • The library offers other databases that are more subject-specific. Ask a librarian or aide if you need help with these.

  • You can also access the public and state library databases. Talk to your librarian about getting a card and access.

  • Databases can seem scary at first, but they do provide you with better information more quickly once you get used to them.

Evaluating Sources

Choose quality sources with credible authors and information. Just because you "like" the information in a source doesn't mean it is a good source. Evaluate every source carefully, especially if it is a source you found on the Internet.

Evaluating Sources

Types of Plagiarism

"The Punishable Perils of Plagiarism" defines and explains different types of plagiarism: intentional and unintentional. After watching the video, you can take the review quiz here. Also, check out the "Dig Deeper" and "Discussion" questions.

The main thing to remember is that you should use information ethically. That means no copy/paste. It also means citing ideas and words properly. Citations need to be in-text AND on a Works Cited or Reference page. 

MLA Format

The Modern Language Association (MLA) format is the citation style most common in high school because your English teacher expects you to use it. Below are different resources that will help you use MLA Format correctly. OWL Purdue is the best website that explains MLA Format. Citation Machine can help you generate Works Cited citations or check your essay for plagiarism. But you should still check your citations against the MLA8 resources. Citation creators don't get the citation 100% correct.


You can use MLA Format in your other classes as well unless your teacher tells you to use something else (APA, Chicago, Terabian). Ask the librarian to help you with these styles.

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Click the image to use the interactive MLA 9 Template.




Make sure your sources aren't crap. Use the CRAAP Test to evaluate their credibility. Quality sources will score at least 40/50. Consider replacing any source that scores below 40.



Most news sites post online, but not all of them have a strong journalistic ethic. Use the Interactive Bias chart to see how biased a news source is. You want most of your sources to fall in the green zone. If they do, they will also score higher on the CRAAP Test.



Cognitive bias occurs when we make snap judgments based on prior experiences. Knowing the types of bias can help you recognize it in yourself and in others. You can also take tests at Project Implicit to see your level of bias.

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