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Improve Your Research Skills

Why not just Google?

The Library owns or subscribes to literally millions of resources, specifically chosen with scholarship in mind.

  • Scholarly, peer-reviewed journals
  • Books published by university presses
  • Databases that give you an efficient way to research topics in your field

The Library's resources provide access to quality information that, for the most part, is not available on the open Web.

Google, on the other hand, is a commercial venture. You can find some good material there, but the results list is based on popularity rather than on scholarly content and quality.

Evaluating Sources

How do you decide what's good information?
Consider the following criteria:

Currency: Is the Information up-to-date? Depending on your research topic, this might not be important.
Relevance: Does the information address your topic?
Authority: Who is responsible for the information? Is s/he an expert on the topic?
Accuracy: Can the information be verified in other sources?
Purpose: Why was the information created? To educate? To sell something? To entertain? To enforce a particular viewpoint?

 Credit to Sarah Blakeslee of the University of California at Chico's Meriam Library.

What is the difference between a scholarly and a popular article

What is a scholarly article?

A scholarly article appears in a publication, such as a journal, which is made up of articles on a narrow topic and which document and discuss the results of original research. Publishing in a scholarly journal is a method researchers use to communicate their research and share with other scholars in their field of study.

  • Authorship: Usually by one or all of the researchers who did the research.
  • Content: Often includes a review of literature previously published on this topic, methodology used in the study, and the findings.
  • Audience: The audience for these articles is usually discipline specific, and as a result the language in articles is often technical and discipline-specific.
  • Peer-Review: Articles in scholarly publications have gone through an editorial review by a panel of experts (peer-review) to ensure that the article has met the requirements of a scholarly article.
  • Access: Many scholarly periodicals are only available through libraries. An increasing number are also available as open access publications.

What is a popular article?

A popular article appears in a magazine or newspaper that you may buy at the supermarket. The content in these publications often covers current events or summarizes research done by others. The content in these publications is often brief, written in simple language, and may include pictures and advertisements. Authors are not always named, and sources are not always identified. 

What is a Literature Review?

Research, and the literature review in particular, is a cyclical process. There is an art to the sometimes messy, thrilling, and frustrating process of conducting a lit review.
  • Read widely but selectively.
  • Follow the citation trail -- building on previous research by reviewing bibliographies of articles and books that are close to your interest.
  • Synthesize previous research on the topic.
  • Aim to include both summary and synthesis.
  • Focus on ways to have the body of literature tell its own story. Do not add your own interpretations at this point.
  • Look for patterns and find ways of tying the pieces together.


What should be the scope of my the Literature Review?

  • First, throw out a wide net and read, read, read. 
  • Then, it depends. How many sources do you need? What types of sources? Which citation style should you use? What time period should it cover? Is currency important? What do you need to be aware of related to scholarly versus popular materials? 

How do I know I am done?

  • You have explored synonmyms and alterntive phrases in your search
  • You keep finding the same articles and materials in your searches
  • No new information is uncovered in searches

How do I organize my literature review?

  • Identify the organizational structure you want to use: chronologically, thematically, or methodologically
  • Start writing: let the literature tell the story, find the best examples, summarize instead of quote, synthesize by rephrasing (but cite!) in the context of your work