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Library Research Skills for College Students: Step-by-Step

A step-by-step in-depth start to finish guide through the research process.

Background Information

Background reading

  • Get to know the basic facts, ideas, and concepts  related to your topic.
  • Use reference sources for background information

Encyclopedias Icon Laptop IconEncyclopedias come in print and electronic versions.

  • Reference sources--encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, almanacs, guidebooks, etc.--are the perfect place to start your research. 
  • Begin your search by entering a single word or a short phrase into the search box.
    • pandemic
    • "college education."
    • nursing
    • "World War II"
    • fly-fishing
  • Skim the list of articles that appear.
    • Click on a title of an article that looks interesting.
    • Scan it for important facts and jot them down.
      • Link to the LibGuide: Notes: Methods and Resources for Taking Notes below
    • Use the email or share tool to email yourself the article so you have instant access to it
  • Encyclopedia Databases at Western Library 
    • Credo Reference 
    • Britannica Library
    • Funk & Wagnall's New World Encyclopedia
  • Skim and scan the article to identify the basics about your topic. Ask and answer questions:
    • who? (names of the different people associated with your topic)
    • what?(definitions and other facts that help your audience get a clear picture of your topic)
    • when? (important dates and timelines as one way of setting the scene for your audience)
    • where? (places - such as cities, states, countries, organizations, governments- or locations - water, mountains, outer space, etc - another way to set the scene for your audience)
    • why? (what are/were the reasons, causes, possibilities, ideas associated with your topic - to provide context about the importance of your topic).

Note-taking is your friend at this stage! Jot down facts, issues, and subjects (vocabulary words) specific to your topic. They can be used in further searches. Look for these terms in  lists, bolded words,or buttons on the results list. Click on title of any article to find more information about your topic.  

Finding Basic Information About Your Topic Using Credo Reference

map icon background info

What should I use the database Credo Reference for?

  • Credo Reference is great for
    • speeches, presentations or short essays or papers
    • learning the basics about a topic 
    • learning the meanings of specific terms related to a field of study
  • articles are often short easy to read
    • information from encyclopedias, handbooks, and dictionaries.
  • helpful features 
    • Key Concept buttons -
      • tell you what the article is about
      • link to more information about the term/concept
    • Mind Maps and Related Searches lists
      • help you see how a topic connects to similar topics.

Credo Reference article iconKey Concepts image

mind map image


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