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Survival Guide




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Learn how to use General Reference resources to get you started on your discovering your research topic.. Includes link to General Reference resources.

Learn how to stay organized throughout your research process. Includes links to Mind Maps, Venn Diagram, KWL Chart, and Affinity Wall How-To

Learn the ABCs to evaluating your sources. Author and Authority, Body, and Currency.

A friendly reminder to always cite your sources, and use other people's work and ideas responsibly.

Start off on the right foot when begin searching and collecting information. Learn where to look, how to search, and the importance of keeping track. Includes links to Authoritative Databases, Search Terms worksheet, and Purdue Online Writing Lab.




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Getting to know your topic

It’s a great feeling when you think you found that special topic. But you might be feeling like things are a little vague, like maybe you don’t know what exactly it is about your topic you want to research or what the topic really is about. That’s okay - not only okay but normal.

If you’re wondering what the next step should be, it’s time to turn to some general reference resources!

Your first date with your research... 

General Reference resources help you make a profile of your topic. They help you answer basic questions, and make quick evaluations. Searching in General Reference resources is a lot like going on a first date, minus the awkward silences, and side glances. These resources give you the run-down of what your topic is about, and what it encompasses. After your first initial search, you should be able to answer these questions:

What do you do?

What is it about? What are the main points to the topic? What does it encompass? Is there an opposite side (if it is an issue), what is it?


Do I still find this interesting? Do I really want to learn more? Or do I want to find the quickest escape exit? Or is nothing wrong but no sparks? 


Can I see myself spending a semester on this? A month? A week? A day? Is it really feasible to search, and create within deadlines or do I need to narrow down my topic? Do I want to spend more time with this topic?

If you find yourself dozing off while searching - chances are it’s probably not the best match, or you shouldn’t have stayed up so late the night before.


Research is suppose to be exciting, incredibly frustrating at times, but it should be something you are passionate about to get you through the rough spots.


Think you found your match?


Move on to the next chapter: Organizing your brains.

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Organizing your brains

You've gone on your first date, you've decided you like the topic, well now it's time to get organized... and stay organized (even if there is some chaos).


Using simple tools to help organize thoughts, ideas, facts, and questions can help bring clarity in the direciton you want to take your research. 


Not one tool will work for everyone, or for every project. Try them out and see which one fits best for you and your research.

Mind Maps


The main purpose of mind maps to help you visualize your thinking in order to see patterns, common themes, and gaps in your thinking.

Venn Diagram


Great for comparing and contrasting, or argumentative papers. Help to see both likes and differences of a topic.

KWL Charts


What I Know, What I Wonder, and What I Learned. This chart lets you place everything you already know on your topic, and the questions you have. Great to use when you're just beginning!

Affinity Wall


This is a simple idea. Write every idea, fact, or question you have down on a single post-it or note card. Start arranging them into columns that go together.


This helps visualize themes, patterns, and extraneous information.


Great if you're somone who likes to think with a lot space!

Finding a "Critical Friend"


A "Critical Friend" is someone you trust or are comfortable with showing your work and thinking in progress. They're somone who has your best interest in mind, bring up important questions, and help see differen perspectives.


If anything, they're just another person to hash out your ideas to. 

Organizational Tools

The tools here all have premade documents you can fill in. However, you might find it more your style to hand draw or create your own. Go for it!

At times staying organized and using these tools might seem messy - or even chaotic. Just remember it is a purposeful chaos and clarity will come. 


Always feel free to stop by the library and ask for help!

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Hunting & Gathering

It's time to dig deeper into your topic - let the searching commence!


Searching for information is a lot like hunting and gathering. You may be wondering, "What should I put in my basket? What should I hunt down? Where do I even look?"


It's definitely hard to see the forest through the trees. Hopefully, your basic search (that first date) and organzing of your ideas has left you feeling like you're in a good spot.


Start collecting anything that seems relevant or interesting to your topic, you can always parse down later! 



Where do I begin? What do I collect?


Ah - the starting of a new research journey. Feeling a little anxious or flustered? A little uncertain of where to go? That's okay! Take that nervous energy and plunge into some searching.


We highly recommend starting your search by jumping into databases. Databases have pre-evaluated information, which help us as researchers feel confident in the legitmacy of sources. 


You'll want to take a look at the Authoritative Databases we have access to through our school and at your home.  


Let's be frank, librarians and teachers don't hate Google, or the Internet. Databases help save time when you're in the beginning, middle, or end of your research. Some databases are cured for specific topics, and all the media they collect are on those specific topics.


You might feel like you've exhausted the database pool. The more familar you become with your topic, the easier it will be to spread your net a little farther out into the Internet. You'll be able to recognize key words, arguments, and organizations associated with your topic.


All that hardwork of organizing will help in coming up with search terms. Search terms are keywords, or phrases, that are associated with your topic. 








For example, say Little Red Riding Hood is wanting to do research on wolf conservation in Michigan. Her main keywords are: 


Wolf, conservation, Michigan

One way to get better search results is to make a list of synonyms to your keywords and/or phrases.


Feel free to use this Search Terms worksheet.

Lil' Red's search synonyms might look something like this:





*management plan


*recovery plan




*Michigan DNR


*The Great Lakes



*gray wolf

*gray wolves

*Canis lupus

Having trouble coming up with synonyms? Take a look at General One File database under "Topic Finder".


The Topic Wheel should provide some inspiration. 


Keeping track of where you have been, and what sources you liked can be helpful not only to prevent going in circles, but also for when you are creating your end product. 


Consider your citations the bread crumbs to your research! Keep an on-going record of citations of sources you like. Annotate the citation with a brief summary (1-2 sentences) and how you might use it. You might make this in a GoogleDoc, physical note cards, or you can use resources like NoodleTools, and EasyBib which help with citation format.

Citations are the bread crumbs to your research.

Looking for a little more help with citing sources? Check out The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)!

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The good, the bad, the ugly

Let's evaluate your resources you're looking at and have found. Like with everything in this guide, it's important to do them continuously throughout your research. Keep a watchful eye on the resources you are using.


Remembering how to evaluate sources is as simple as ABC.


A is for checking Author and Authority. 


Ask: Who is the author? Who funded the research? What organizations are associated with the author? Is the author well know? Does the author bring any biases to the subject? What might they be? 


B is for scanning and skimming the Body of the work.


Look to see if the work is objective. Is there a point of view to this work?


Consider its accuracy. Are there citations present in the work? Does it look well researched? How do you know?


Lastly, consider relevance to your topic. Are you able to find relevant information in the work?


The ABCs to research can help you quickly evaluate sources throughout your research - when you're searching, collecting, or synthesizing information for you project.


C is for looking at the Currency of the work.


Ask: Was it recently published? Is it within the last 4 years? Is this a topic where older publications are acceptable? Is the information presented accurate and up to date? Look for copyright, date of publication, or date posted. If it is a website, are the links working or are they broken?

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Putting it all together

Congratulations - you've made it this far! Now it's time to sharpen that pencil and get to creating! Whether you're writing a paper, a blog, making a movie, or whatever cool project you end up creating, remember to cite and give attribution! 


What is the big deal, it's on the Internet - so it's free, right?



The Tale of Giving Credit.


Say you have an idea.

This is a great idea!

Your friend loved your idea and tells another friend. They tell another. Then they tell another and so on, but no one says where it came from.

Feeling a bit jilted? I mean, people are claiming your idea as their own. Don't let this happen to you!

This is my idea!

You go tell your friend your idea.

I came up with that.

The idea starts to get used by other people, some even start claiming it's their own idea.

Give credit!


It is the main reason as to why we cite our sources whether it is for images, video, or articles. 


Cite work and be responsible.



There are a lot of tools to help you give proper credit. You might want to check out Purdue Online Writing Lab, or use online citation tools like NoodleTools and EasyBib.


Happy researching!



The Research Surival Guide was built by Kelsey Forester as part of her graduate work at the University of Michigan School of Information. Thank you, Kelsey!

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