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This is the "Research Basics" page of the "Archbishop Alter Library" guide.
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Archbishop Alter Library  

Helping you Research and Learn!
Last Updated: Jun 22, 2017 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

Research Basics Print Page

Getting Started

Select a Topic

The topic you select must be a manageable one. It should be specific enough that you won't be overwhelmed with material, but not so esoteric that there is little information available. Consult with your instructor for help in selecting a topic, and to be certain you understand his or her requirements for the assignment.

Find Background Information

Encyclopedias, textbooks or other general works that discuss your topic are an excellent place to begin. These sources provide background information and selective bibliographies. They often can suggest ways to narrow a broad topic so that it is more manageable. Search a general encyclopedia for an introduction to your topic.

Locate Books

Books provide extensive, in-depth information on a topic, or on a particular aspect of a topic. Search library catalogs for books on your topic.

Use Bibliographies

A bibliography is a list of recommended books, articles, and other sources on a particular topic and should be fairly recent to be helpful. Search library catalogs and encyclopedia articles for bibliographies on your topic.

Locate Articles

Magazine, journal and newspaper articles can provide current information on your topic. You may find articles about topics that are not covered in books. You will also find various points-of-view presented in magazine and journal articles and in newspaper editorials. Search periodical and newspaper indexes for articles.

Use Reference Sources

Specialized resources can be useful if you need biographical information, statistics, definitions of technical terms, or information about companies or organizations. Use reference sources or search the Web for information on your topic.


Using Bibliographies

A bibliography is a list of information sources on a topic. During your research process, you create a bibliography by writing down the title, author, and publication information for each item you use. Authors of books and journal articles usually list the sources they consulted during their research. When you can find a book or article about your topic that contains a bibliography, you can take advantage of the author's research. Check the book's table-of-contents or at the end of the article, for a bibliography. You will have a ready-made list of what has been written about your topic, which you can update with more recent resources. If a book contains a bibliography, that will be noted within the book's catalog record in FOCUS. Look at the full record for the abbreviation Bibliog. followed by the page numbers in the book where you'll find the bibliography.


Finding Background Information

How should you begin your research on a topic? Unless you're an expert on the subject, you should begin by reading summaries of your topic, such as you would find in an encyclopedia, a handbook, or a textbook.

Encyclopedias can provide an overview of a topic, introduce the leading figures in the field, explain terminology, and list additional sources of information.

Encyclopedias are located in the Archbishop Alter Library's Reference Collection.  Look in the encyclopedia's index for the page numbers where information on your topic can be found.

Columbia Encyclopedia, World Book Web, and Funk & Wagnall's New World Encyclopedia are online encyclopedias. Follow the on-screen instructions for searching the encyclopedia.

From the Library's home page, Find Books & Media lists Online Reference Sources, which includes Online Dictionaries, Encyclopedias and other Reference Sources. From there you can connect to online encyclopedias, such as Word Book Web.


Basic Information Literacy Competencies for Students

Part of being a successful college student is having good information literacy skills. "Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information'" (from ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education).  The following list can help you determine if you are able to perform basic research skills.

  • I can search the library catalog and use the information to locate items
  • I can search online periodical databases and use the information to locate articles
  • I can limit search results in a database
  • I can locate peer-reviewed journal articles
  • I can use a citation to find an item in the Library or online
  • I can request items from other libraries
  • I can select the appropriate kind of source for my information need
  • I can check my library record
  • I can use controlled vocabulary to search a database
  • I can use a documentation style to cite my information sources
  • I can use search operators, phrase searching and truncation to search a database
  • I know the difference between a journal and a magazine
  • I know what peer-reviewed means
  • I know the difference between an online journal article and a Web site
  • I know the periodical databases for my major
  • I understand the criteria used to evaluate information sources
  • I understand the difference between a subject search and a keyword search
  • I understand what primary and secondary sources are
  • I understand what constitutes plagiarism

If you are uncertain about how to determine the information or tasks above, please consult with a College of Mount St. Joseph reference librarian by calling 513/244-4307.


Criteria for Evaluating Information Sources


  • Who wrote or created this source? (person, organization or institution)
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • With what organization or institution is the author affiliated?


  • Is this an original piece of work or research?
  • Is it fact or opinion?
  • Is there a bias, or a particular point-of-view being presented?
  • Does the source have any special features that might be relevant to your topic?
  • How well is the subject covered? Does it meet your information needs?
  • How much prior knowledge is required to use this source?


  • Is the information accurate?
  • Is it properly annotated, cited or documented?
  • How does the information compare to other sources within the field?


  • When was the source published or created?
  • Has it been revised or updated?
  • How current are the citations to other sources or links to other Web sites?

Source Information:

  • Has the source been reviewed or evaluated by a specific review process, by peers, or by experts in the field?
  • Is there an index or other method to locate specific information within the source?

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is passing off someone else's work or words as your own. It includes not citing the source of quotations, ideas, or paraphrases.

In some cases, students do not know how to cite sources or do not keep a record of sources consulted. Other cases are deliberate: cutting and pasting from an article or Web site, or turning in a paper written by someone else. Whether intentional or not, plagiarism in any form is wrong and can result in expulsion or a failing grade for the course.

The Mount's Academic Honesty Policy outlines the rights and responsibilities of faculty and students, and provides examples of appropriate behavior. 

What can faculty do to prevent plagiarism?

  • Include a statement about Academic Honesty on your syllabus
  • Define plagiarism for your students
  • Discuss plagiarism in class
  • Provide guidelines and expectations for written assignments
  • Encourage students to show drafts and research materials (articles, Web pages, etc.) to you
  • Refer students to the Mount's Writing Center
  • Discuss style manuals and forms of citation
  • Help students approach the assignment as a process rather than a product
  • Assign interim due dates
  • Vary research topics from semester to semester

Here are some Web sites with information for faculty:

What can students do to avoid plagiarism?

  • Ask your professor questions to make sure you understand the requirements of the assignment
  • Give yourself plenty of time
  • Consult with your instructor about the research process
  • Work in stages; don't expect to complete the assignment in one visit to the library
  • Keep track of your sources: write down or print-out source citations as you research
  • Understand the guidelines of the style manual you're using, including: how to cite a variety of sources, how to quote and how to paraphrase
  • Use the Mount's Writing Center

Here are some Web sites with information for students:


Interpreting Citations

A citation is the descriptive information about a book, article, web site, or other source, that you use to locate that specific source.  To help you determine the type of information source, here are some examples of citations you may find during your research.


Author, last name first. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, year of publication.

Example: Klein, Gerda Weissmann. All But My Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.

Magazine article:

Author, last name first. "Title of Article." Title of Magazine, publication date, page numbers.

Example: Quittner, Joshua. "Free Speech for the Net." Time, June 24, 1996, p. 56-57.

Journal article:

Author, last name first. "Title of article." Title of Journal volume number (publication date): page numbers.

Example: Shainess, Natalie. "Charles Dickens: The First (Interpersonal) Psychoanalyst or -- A Christmas Carol: A Literary Psychoanalysis." The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 52 (December 1992): 351-363.

Web site:

Author, last name first. "Title of Document." Title of Complete Work (if possible). document date, if known. full http address (date of visit).

Example: Fairfax County, Virginia. "Caldecott Winners." Fairfax County, Virginia. February 18, 1997. (April 18, 1997)


Glossary of Research Terms

summary or brief statement of the contents of an article, book, or other source
list of books, articles and other sources on a topic
descriptive information about a book, article, Web site, etc. Includes the information needed to locate the item.
electronic delivery
documents sent and received by means of a computer network
entire text of an article
hard-copy delivery
print out on paper
a connection between two places on the World Wide Web, represented on-screen by highlighted text or icon
a symbol or pictorial representation. When an icon is clicked on, some action is performed.
Interlibrary Loan
service that obtains materials not available in the Mount Library
a network of computers offering access to the World Wide Web
scholarly periodical intended for experts and students in a particular field. Articles are based on research and include footnotes and bibliographies.
popular periodical intended for the general public. Articles are meant to entertain and inform.
finding your way around
online public access catalog
library catalog on computer, made available for public use
publication issued at regular intervals; monthly, weekly, etc. (magazine, journal, newspaper)
reference sources
designed to be referred to for information, not to be read straight through (encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc.)
web browser
a World Wide Web program for searching the Internet
web page
a block of data available on the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
collection of hyperlinked multimedia documents stored on computers worldwide


Summer Semester
May 13-August 27, 2017

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Fri: 8am-5pm
Sat: 10am-5pm
Sun: Closed

Days Closed (Summer):
Sat., July 1; Tues., July 4;
Sat., July 8; Sundays

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