New Student's Guide to the Library: Get Started on an Assignment

Incoming freshmen and new students: start here to use library resources

Getting started top

Getting started on an assignment sometimes seems like the hardest step!

  • Read the instructions carefully
  • Ask your professor for clarification if needed 

Help for Getting Started

Picking Your Topic IS Research

(3:12) Identifying an area of interest and turning it into a workable topic that's not too broad or too narrow is part of the research process. Think of it as the "pre-search" phase. North Carolina State Univ. Libraries

Note: If your topic is about a recent event, it will be difficult to find scholarly articles and books other than for general context or background information. To learn more, see The Information Cycle video.

More help for choosing and refining a topic:

Tips & Resources for Exploring a Possible Topic

  • Try to find a topic in which you're genuinely interested and want to learn more
  • Look through your textbook or class notes for ideas
  • Browse through topic-overview and background-information resources like CQ Researcher and others below, which are more suitable to academic work than Wikipedia, which most professors won't want you to cite
  • As you explore, pay attention to terms or keywords used to identify aspects of a given topic
  • When you have an idea of what you might want to write about, see Search Strategy, and then use Find Books, Find Articles, or OneSearch to see how much and what kind of information is available
  • Based on results, consider narrowing or broadening your topic if needed

Types of Information Sources: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary

If your professor talks about primary, secondary, or tertiary information sources, but you still have questions, this video (5:52) by Credo Reference/Literati and its summary notes will help. Learn more, also, in the library's Primary Sources guide.

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