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Research Help


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Circulation & Research:
(513) 244-4216


Archbishop Alter Library
Mount St. Joseph University
5701 Delhi Road
Cincinnati, OH 45233

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Getting started with research

Select a Topic

  • Select a topic that is interesting to you. It should not be so broad that there is way too much information, or so narrow that very little has been written about it. Librarians can suggest ways to make a topic more manageable.
  • Take your topic and try to formulate it into a research question:

For example:

Too BROAD: Are therapy animals beneficial?
Why: Information overload, not a manageable topic

Too NARROW: What are the effects of therapy animals on 13-year-old boys with depression in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio?
Why: Not enough information conducted about this topic.

Just right: Are therapy animals beneficial to the treatment of mental health disorders in teenagers?

  • From your research topic, identify key concepts and their related keywords.

    Beneficial (impactful, influential, positive, effective)
    Therapy animals (animal assisted therapy, pet therapy, therapy dogs, equine assisted therapy)
    Teenagers (youth, juveniles, teens, adolescents, young people)
    Mental health disorders (mental illness, mental illness disorders, mental health, mental illness treatment, mental depression, anxiety)
  • The following video explains "Searching Databases with Keywords":

Organize Your Thoughts

  • If you need help organizing your thoughts, try using our worksheet to help you get organized with selecting a topic.
    We also offer an example on how to fill out the worksheet.


Consult with your instructor

  • For help in selecting a topic and to be certain you understand the requirements for the assignment.

Consult Subject Guides

  • Check the appropriate Subject Guide for recommended sources, including websites.

Find Background Information

  • How researchable is your topic?
    Ask yourself: How much do you know about your topic? Also, ask yourself: is there enough information available to support your research on your chosen topic?
  • Read background information in your textbook or from an encyclopedia article.
    The MSJ Library offers encyclopedias and other reference books in both our print and digital collections. A listing of reference-type databases can be found on our Databases A-Z: Reference. Not sure which resource to use for finding background info? MSJ Librarians can assist you in finding background information on a topic.

Examples of resources helpful for background info:

Find Articles

Find Books

Ask for Help

Criteria for Evaluating Information Sources

Evaluating information sources


  • Is the source authoritative?
    • Author is an expert in the field
    • Author has knowledge based on education or experience
  • Is the source reliable?
    • Author cites authoritative sources on the topic
    • Publisher has a reputation for accurate and complete information


  • What kind of information is presented?
    • Overview or survey of the topic
    • Facts and statistics
    • Research report; research-based article or book
    • Opinion or based on personal experience
    • Critique, analysis, or review
  • How well is it presented?
    • Information is well organized
    • Spelling and grammar are correct
    • Menu, table of contents, index, or section headings to help in locating specific information
    • Illustrations and tables are appropriate and useful


  • What is the purpose of the source?
    • Educate and inform
    • Entertain
    • Persuade
    • Market a product or service
  • What point of view is presented?
    • Fact-based; objective
    • Examines various sides of an issue fairly
    • Favors a particular outcome, cause, or candidate
    • Attempts to convince you to a certain way of thinking about the topic


  • When was the source published or created?
    • Covers current events
    • Includes background on the topic
    • Provides historical coverage
  • Has it been updated or revised?
    • Includes latest research findings
    • Describes new discoveries or techniques
    • Citations and links include up-to-date sources

Can I use this source?

  • Does this source fit the criteria required for the assignment, such as publication date or type of source?
  • Does this source offer a point of view that supports or challenges my argument?
  • Does this source use language and terminology that I understand?


  • Schedule an appointment with a Librarian to learn more about evaluating sources

Evaluating Sources: Magazines & Journals


  • A collection of scholarly articles, printed or online
  • Articles report on research in a particular field
  • Authors are experts in their field
  • Articles are peer-reviewed. Experts in the same field as the author review and evaluate the paper being considered for publication
  • Articles include notes and citations
  • Articles use the terminology of the field


  • A collection of articles, printed or online
  • Articles are meant to inform and entertain
  • Authors are staff members or free-lance writers
  • Articles are not peer-reviewed and do not include citations
  • Articles include illustrations and photographs
  • Articles are written for a general audience

Trade Magazine

  • A collection of articles, printed or online
  • Articles cover news and give practical information on an industry or trade
  • Authors are specialists in their industry or trade
  • Articles are written for people in the industry
  • Articles are not peer-reviewed and do not include citations
  • Authors use the terminology of the industry

Examples of the three major categories of periodicals:

Scholarly Journals Popular Magazines Trade Publications
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vogue Nation's Restaurant News

Journal of Educational Research

Scientific American

Publisher Weekly

Political Quarterly

National Geographic

Advertising Age

The American Psychologist

Psychology Today

Information Today

Progress in Human Geography

U. S. News and World Report

Aviation Week and
Space Technology

Adapted from “Scholarly Journals, Popular Magazines, and Trade Publications”, by Carol A. Singer, Reference Librarian, Bowling Green State University.

Evaluating Sources: Primary and Secondary

Primary Sources:

Primary Sources are resources that record or describe events at the time they were experienced.


  • Original documents, such as diaries, letters, photographs, official records
  • Creative works, such as paintings, manuscripts, scores
  • Artifacts, such as tools, weapons, ornaments

Primary sources can be found in print and online collections.



Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources are ones:

  • that interpret or explain past events
  • that analyze or restate primary sources
  • may argue a particular interpretation or point of view

Examples are:

  • Textbooks
  • Journal articles
  • Encyclopedias
  • Biographies

Secondary sources can be found in print and online collections:
Examples are:

  • Mount Library and OhioLINK collections
  • Mount Library databases
  • Websites



Primary Source

Secondary Source


Original artwork

Article critiquing the piece of art


Slave diary

Book about the Underground Railroad



Treatise on a particular genre of poetry

Political Science


Essay on Native American land rights


Videotape of a performance

Biography of a playwright

Adapted from “Primary Vs. Secondary Sources”, by Carol A. Singer, Reference Librarian, Bowling Green State University

Evaluating Web Sites


  • Who (or what institution or organization) created, and/or is responsible for this source?
  • Is this an original piece of work or research?
  • Is it fact or opinion?
  • What are the author's credentials. Is he or she a student, a professor, an expert in the field, or just an enthusiast or hobbyist?
  • With what organization or institution is he or she affiliated?


Accuracy, Content, and Currency

  • Is the information accurate?
  • Is it properly annotated, cited, or documented?
  • How does the information compare to information available in other sources within the field?
  • How well is the subject covered? Does it meet your (or your students) information needs?
  • When was the page or site created? Has it been revised? When was it last updated?
  • If the site contains links to other Internet/WWW resources, are these links current and in working order?


Document or Site Information

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the site or the information it contains?
  • Is it a published or unpublished paper, a presentation, or an informational site?
  • Has the site been reviewed or evaluated by any of the following: a specific review process and/or group, by peers, by other authorities or experts in the field?
  • What is the perspective of the information being presented? Is there a bias, or a particular point of view being presented?


Ease of Use

  • Take into consideration the overall design, layout and presentation of information.
  • Is help readily available (or needed?).
  • Is there an index or table of contents available?


Stability of Resource

  • Keep in mind that the nature of the Internet is dynamic. Web pages and web sites are updated, revised, renovated, moved, and deleted daily. Always expect change!
  • Web pages and sites created and maintained by colleges, universities (departments or individuals within these types of institutions), governmental agencies, libraries, major corporations and businesses, and major organizations tend to be more stable than those maintained by people who have accounts on ISPs (Internet Service Providers) or students. It's not necessarily a problem with the quality of the information, but rather with the availability or stability of the information. Students may graduate or leave school and thus their web pages are no longer updated, and are eventually deleted. Many people change ISPs, or their ISP may ask them to remove the web page or web site for any number of reasons. Many people may simply decide that they are no longer interested in a certain topic, so they delete the information.
  • If the web page or web site has been moved, are there links to the new page with a reminder to change your bookmarks and links?
  • If you are giving your students a list of Internet/WWW resources to use for class, or preparing a list of links to be included in a presentation or classroom lecture, make sure all links are working before you hand out the list or begin your presentation. Always have alternate sites picked out, since you never know when a certain site might be down for maintenance or temporarily out of service.


Where to look for information when evaluating and selecting Internet/WWW resources

  • Look at the top or bottom of the web page for institution name, author, contact person, creation date, update information, affiliations, etc.
  • Look for links to a personal, professional, departmental, or institutional web page for more information.
  • Do a web search for the author's name. Try searching AltaVista. Put quotation marks around the author's name ("John Doe") when searching.
  • Look for an "About" or "Information About this Site" link.
  • Consult various review services (e.g., Librarian's Index to the Internet Many professional journals regularly review and evaluate Internet resources.
  • Look closely at the URL to determine where the web page is located.

Avoiding Plagiarism

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.
  • Plagiarism in any form is wrong and can result in penalties ranging from a failing grade for an assignment or a course to dismissal from the university.
  • Consult the Mount's Academic Honesty Policy for more information about plagiarism and examples of appropriate behavior. 
  • Schedule an appointment at the Writing Center to learn strategies for avoiding plagiarism.

Suggestions for Students 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
  • Schedule an appointment with a Librarian for help with 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
  • Summarize in your own words the information you find in your sources rather than merely copying
  • Schedule an appointment at the Writing Center for help with the writing process

Suggestions for Faculty 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
  • Use the Mount’s Turnitin subscription to assist with detecting plagiarism (More information about Turnitin can be found on the Instructor Resources page on MyMount)
  • Refer students to the 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