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Researching Your Topic

Basic Search Strategy: What is It?

A search strategy is a step-by-step process that involves:

  • Finding information using library resources.

  • Evaluating the material you find to see which is the most useful material for the assignment.

  • Beginning with sources of general information and moving to those of a more specific nature, as you focus more carefully on your specific topic.

There are six basic steps to researching your topic:

Step 1: Read

Step 2: Define

Step 3: Consult

Step 4: Outline

Step 5: Gather

Step 6: Note

Step 1: Read

Read an encyclopedia or dictionary article to get a general overview of your topic. An encyclopedia article can provide you with a general description of your subject, so that you can have a basic understanding of what you’re trying to research. It will also give you relevant bibliographic references (in other words, other books and sources on the subject you are researching). The articles in encyclopedias are usually written by a board of scholars who contribute articles.

Encyclopedias differ in their strengths and usefulness. For instance Encyclopedia Americana specializes in North American history and biography. Encyclopaedia Britannica is written on an adult level and is heavy reading with a strong British influence. Collier’s Encyclopedia specializes in articles on the humanities and social sciences.

The library’s reference collection contains specialized encyclopedias as well as general ones. For example, there are encyclopedias of the bible, church history, theology, worship, Christian education, and music, among others. To find out if the library has an encyclopedia or dictionary that covers topics relating to your subject area, check the online catalog. Choose “subject” as your search option, and then type in your topic, followed by the word “dictionaries” or “encyclopedias.” Type it is like this: “[Your topic]-Dictionaries.” For example, when you type in type in “Bible-Dictionaries”, you will receive a list of approximately 126 different Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries that are available in our library. Or if you type in “Music-Dictionaries”, you’ll receive a list of approximately 19 encyclopedias and dictionaries which specifically cover music-related topics.

Step 2: Define

Define your topic.

Search the library’s online catalog on your subject to see how many or how few books are available. As you look at the list of books, ask yourself two questions: Are there so many books on my topic that I will need to limit my subject? Or, are there so few books that I either need to broaden my subject or change my paper topic altogether?

If you have trouble locating any books on your topic, it may be that you need to rephrase the way in which you are typing your subject in the online catalog. You can look up your subject in a set of books called The Library of Congress Subjecting Headings. This set of books will tell you the correct way to phrase your subject as you are typing it into the catalog. These volumes also provide cross-references so that you can find information under other subject headings that you may not have considered.

Step 3: Consult

Consult a library employee if you need personal assistance or you can e-mail the library staff (

A desk attendant can answer your basic questions. If you cannot find a book you’re looking for, or if you are using our online catalog for the first time and need help getting started, please come to the circulation desk and ask an attendant for help.

The reference librarian is available Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Please consult the librarian if you need help with researching your topic. The reference librarian can help you choose the best resources that the library has available.

Step 4: Outline

Make a preliminary outline. Write down major ideas and points of investigation that you wish to pursue in your research. This is a tentative outline that will help you begin to organize your thoughts and work out a plan for conducting your research.

Step 5: Gather

Gather your main sources.

There are three main types of resources you will want to use for your research paper: books, articles, and pages from the internet/world wide web. As you look for each type of resource, there are some things to consider:


  • Use our online catalog, SCROLLS, to locate books on your subject. To find out what books may be available in other libraries, consult the OhioLINK central catalog.

  • You may want to consider looking at bibliographies and other lists of books to help you find books that will be helpful for your research. Bibliographies can come from many different sources:

    • Professor’s bibliographies passed out in class.

    • Books in Print (located in reference).

    • Bibliographies in encyclopedia and dictionary articles.

    • Specialized bibliographies (located in reference) that list books in a particular subject area.

    • A topic search on (The Amazon website includes a fairly comprehensive list of books that are currently in print, as well as listings of out-of-print books.)

    • A subject search in OCLC’s WorldCat, a catalog of resources from libraries around the world.


  • Use the library’s computer indexes to locate articles pertaining to your subject. Periodical indexes covering a variety of subject areas are available through OhioLINK (for example: PsycINFO, Academic Search Complete, and ATLA).

  • You can consult the library’s Periodical Holdings List to determine which journals and magazines are available in our library. Our web site also provides a listing of our periodical subscriptions arranged by subject and alphabetically by title.

Internet/World Wide Web

  • Use an Internet search engine to locate web pages related to your topic. Some useful search engines are Google (, Yahoo ( and (, and (

  • The Internet can often be a source for the most recent information pertaining to your subject. One might find such things as statistics, photographs, charts and electronic documents relating to his or her subject.

  • Be aware that many different resources of varying quality are available over the Internet. The careful student will want to discern the quality of information he or she finds on the Internet. For assistance in evaluating Internet resources, please see the document on our web page entitled, “Evaluating Internet Resources,” or see the pamphlet “Choosing the Right Sources.”

As you gather your sources and decide which ones to use for your research project, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need popular or scholarly sources, or even a combination of both?

  • Do I need primary (eyewitness) sources, or do I only need secondary sources (sources based on primary sources), or do I need a combination of both?

  • What is the theological or ideological slant of my sources? Do I need sources that represent various points of view on a particular subject, or am I researching only one particular viewpoint?

  • Do I need sources that provide historical or current information on my topic, or a combination of both?

Step 6: Note It

Take careful notes from your sources.

  • After you have selected which resources you will use for your research, it is now time to begin taking notes and gathering information on your topic. Remember: it is illegal and immoral to copy word-for-word someone else’s ideas and present them as your own. That’s called plagiarism, and it is not tolerated on the CCU campus. If you do borrow someone else’s ideas, make sure you give credit to that person by citing in your paper the source you got your information from. As you’re taking notes from various sources, always write down where you’re getting your information from, so you can cite the source if necessary. Also you’ll know where to find that information again if you need to return to that same source for further information.
  • When you get ready to write your paper, please refer to our “Mini-Manual of Form and Style” if you need help with questions about writing. This manual is available on our website, or a print version is available in the bookstore.

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