Library Research Paper Definitions

Library research involves the step-by-step process used to gather information in order to write a paper, create a presentation, or complete a project. As you progress from one step to the next, it is commonly necessary to back up, revise, add additional material or even change your topic completely. This will depend on what you discover during your research. There are many reasons for adjusting your plan. For example, you may find that your topic is too broad and needs to be narrowed, sufficient information resources may not be available, what you learn may not support your thesis, or the size of the project does not fit the requirements.

The research process itself involves identifying and locating relevant information, analyzing what you found, and then developing and expressing your ideas. These are the same skills you will need on the job when you write a report or proposal.

Secondary sources are studies by other researchers. They describe, analyze, and/or evaluate information found in primary sources. By repackaging information, secondary sources make information more accessible. A few examples of secondary sources are books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, periodical indexes, and reviews, etc.

Primary sources are original works. These sources represent original thinking, report on discoveries, or share new information. Usually these represent the first formal appearance of original research. Primary sources include statistical data, manuscripts, surveys, speeches, biographies/autobiographies, diaries, oral histories, interviews, works or art and literature, research reports, government documents, computer programs, original documents(birth certificates, trial transcripts...) etc.

Before you begin any project, it is essential to have a plan. Whether your project is a two page paper or a literature review, a research plan will help. Developing a plan will save time, stress and in the final analysis, yield a superior product.

  1. Define your topic
    For topic ideas try the following:
    • Browse current/hot topics sites, such as CQ Researcher & TopicSearch
    • Browse current interest magazines or newspapers for stories of interest
    • Browse encyclopedias or other reference books
    • Browse "10,000 Ideas for Term Papers, Projects, Reports and Speeches" (Ref LB1047.3 L35 1998)
    • Listen to radio or television programs
    • Talk to people, such as teachers, friends

    One way to define your topic is to select a broad topic, then identify one or more sub topics you might like to explore.

    • Broad topic: ______________________________
      • Sub topic: ___________________________
      • Sub topic: ___________________________
      • Sub topic: ___________________________

    Another approach is to select a topic, then list possible questions, such as...

    • Who?
    • What?
    • Where?
    • When?
    • Why?
    • How?
  2. Write a thesis or problem statement: Begin with a question, research the topic further, then develop an opinion.
  3. Make an outline. Even a quick one will help organize your thoughts and keep your research and your topic focused.
  4. Develop a Search Strategy.

    Make a list of subjects or keywords that might be useful in your search. Consider synonyms, such as hare and rabbit, or dog and canine. Alternate spellings are also common, try variations such as Athabascan, Athabaskan, Athapascan, or Athapaskan.

    Consider what the best sources for information you need might be. What type of information will you need? For tips on locating relevant sources see Library Search Strategy.

    • books
    • periodicals
    • newspapers
    • government documents
    • biographical sources
    • videos
    • reference books: almanacs, etc.
    • people (experts)
    • archives/special collections
    • Internet sources
    • other?

    Consider where you would look for the sources you have selected:

    • The UAF Library Catalog or WorldCat
    • General periodical and newspaper indexes
    • Alaska Periodical Index or other specialized periodical indexes
    • Archives - finding aids, assistance from archives staff
    • Expert knowledge (professionals, scientists, elders, etc.)
    • Call agency/association
    • Other?

    Always gather more information/citations than you think you might need.Some items might be missing, checked out, not owned by the library, etc.

    • If you get stumped ask for help at the Reference Desk, ask a friend, or send your instructor an e-mail.
    • Remember the 15 minute rule -- if you've spent 15 minutes trying to figure something out in your research activities, ask for help.
    • When searching online databases -- read the screens carefully and remember that it takes the same amount of time to find an article that is 1/8 of a page long as one that is 10 pages long -- use your time wisely. It may be that a smaller article gives you exactly the information you need, but if you're looking for extensive information, the longer article or the book will likely go into more depth on the topic, AND lead you to additional resources through its bibliographies. Take time to read the HELP or HOW TO SEARCH screens. Take advantage of Boolean searching and other searching tips to refine and improve the accuracy of your search.
    • If you think you'll need assistance in your research try to use the library during times when the Reference Desk is open.
  5. Evaluate your sources. Examine your citations and read the information contained in the articles, documents, books, etc. Consider their authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage, to see if they are appropriate for your topic.
  6. Take careful notes. To save time, gather complete information the first time.

    Document your sources carefully and take notes (with page numbers).If you do have to refer back to the source, it will save time if this information is readily available and you will need it for your bibliography or "works cited" list. For each source that you find, gather the following information:

    For Books: Required citation elements are indicated in bold

    • Author:
    • Title:
    • Publisher (location, name, date):
    • Helpful information to relocate material, if necessary (optional):
    • Page numbers:
    • Call number (if any):
    • Subject you searched:
    • Persistent Link for electronic resources:

    For Articles: Required citation elements are indicated in bold

    • Article title:
    • Author's name (if any):
    • Title of periodical:
    • Volume & Issue number (if any):
    • Page numbers:
    • Date:
    • Helpful information to relocate material, if necessary (optional):
    • Call number of journal (if any):
    • Index searched:
    • Subject searched:
    • Persistent Link for electronic resources:
  7. Writing and revising the paper. Allow plenty of time for the writing process. Your thesis and/or outline may need to be revised to reflect what was discovered during your research.

  8. Document your sources. Give credit for the intellectual work of others. Many citation style guides are available in print and via the Internet. If you are not sure which citation style is appropriate for your project/paper, check with your instructor.

Additional Resources:

  • If you would like additional information/help on the research process or writing research papers visit the UAF Writing Center located in 801 Gruening.
  • Writer's Handbook - a handy reference for academic writing available via the Internet.
How to write a library research paper

Goal of assignment:

Learning how to summarize information clearly and succinctly is one of the most important skills you can learn in college. Your primary goal in this assignment is to summarize, in your own words, what is known about a topic, including the current state of knowledge. Your paper should summarize recent work and provide a historical perspective (remember science does not occur in a vacuum but builds on earlier results and observations). Follow the guidelines below and consult chapter 8 in A Short Guide to Writing About Biology, 7th edition for further details.

The paper should include:

  1. A synthesis of information on your topic. (Your discussion must integrate the various sources that you found; it should not be a series of summaries of individual articles without a discussion of the relationships among them.)

  2. An organization that develops the topic clearly. Usually this involves:
    1. A Title. You must convey significant information
    2. An overview (1-3 paragraphs in length). This is your opportunity to develop the idea(s). Use reference materials and secondary literature to establish context and to introduce existing hypotheses. By the end of this section your reader should know where you are heading (what are your goals).
    3. A presentation of recently published results. Use new data from primary literature (data papers). Give summaries of the observations or experimental results that support specific ideas/hypotheses/conclusions in your overview. In other words, you must support your assertions with concrete examples. (Don't ignore studies that run counter to your expectations.)
    4. A summary paragraph. Here you will summarize the current state of knowledge and suggest avenues for further research.
    5. A literature cited section. You must include all the references you cited in your paper. (Do not include those that you read but did not cite.)

Mechanics of writing the paper (expectations):
(see "Keys to Success" in chapter 1 of Pechenik for list of rules to follow)

  1. Don't quote but clearly attribute each concept, idea, definition etc. to the literature source from which you got it. Do this using in-text citation of the sort you see in the laboratory manual. (Rules 2 & 3)

  2. Each reference you cite in your paper should have its full citation in your literature cited section. Only references used in your paper should be in your literature cited section.

  3. All references in the literature cited section should be in the correct citation format. Also see the example citations at the Bio14 web site (

  4. You should use at least six sources: two sources from the primary literature(original data papers), two sources from the secondary literature (books and reviews) and two web resources. Each source should relate directly to the topic you have selected. The literature cited section should be in alphabetical order by the first author's last name; do not separately list the primary, secondary and web resources.

  5. Write clear, concise statements about the topic. You will need to understand the topic and the literature very well before you will be able to summarize it effectively. (Rules 4-6)

  6. Provide clear summaries followed by specific examples (Rule 8) . You might write: "The mating success of insects is extremely temperature dependent. For example, Bernheim and Furhman (1988) found that ..."

  7. Always distinguish your ideas from those presented in the papers (Rule 9).

  8. Plan to finish a first draft at least several days before the final paper is due (Rule 10).

  9. Revise a day or two later according to Rules 11-16, so that you present your thoughts logically, succinctly and clearly.

  10. Don't forget to italicize or underline all scientific names and proofread before handing in your paper (Rules 17-25).

    Before you hand in the paper, make sure you have: (1) checked off the list at the end of chapter 8, and (2) answered yes to the questions inside the back cover of Pechenik. Your paper will be evaluated on the above criteria (identified in bold face above).

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