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Finding and Evaluating Sources

In this topic, you can read about:

Finding Sources of Information

There are several approaches you can take to finding information for a research paper. Two approaches are:

  1. Look for information through the library.
  2. Look for information using search engines.

Finding Information through the Library

A search using Google or Google Scholar can result in millions of potential sources, so it’s no wonder these tools are such popular choices. However, there are lots of specialized databases that you won't find in a Google or Google Scholar search.  These specialized databases can link you to thousands of academic resources, such as research articles, business & legal information resources, or statistical surveys. The Library's guides can also connect you to some of the great databases in your field — whether you are a marketing major or a philosophy student. In addition, the library's catalog will link you to books and journals that aren't yet available online.  Cornell, like other universities, is digitizing many of its historic collections but there are still millions of volumes that are not yet in digital form.  Here are some ways you can begin finding information for your research assignment:

  • Try a general database like Academic Search Premier or Proquest Research Library initally to find articles on any topic you wish.
  • Check the library catalog for books or good background sources on a topic.
  • Start with a subject or course guide for your topic area.
  • Look at a database in your subject area. The library subscribes to scholarly resources in a wide variety of disciplines that aren't available anywhere else for free, such as JSTOR for the humanities and social sciences, Web of Knowledge for the sciences or Lexis Nexis for newspapers, legal information and more.
  • Ask a librarian using the Ask a Librarian tool or schedule a research consultation.

All of these approaches will give you useful resources on your topic.

For more information on finding materials on various topics, see Finding books, articles and other materials to in the library's Introduction to Research tutorial.

If you find one good source, the bibliography at the end of it will point to research that its author used. In addition, you can often find scholarly articles created to provide an overview of research in specific fields. The sources cited in such review articles or in any relevant bibliography are good starting points for further inquiry.

Why can’t you just Google it? Remember, not everything is available online and free of charge, especially in the scholarly realm. To get the best results, look beyond Google. (This tutorial also includes a topic entitled "Why Everything Isn’t Available Online and Free" which you should refer to for more information.)

Finding Information Using Search Engines

You’re probably already familiar with searching for information on the Internet. Here are a few academic objectives that a general Web search can help you meet:

  • Starting a topic search and seeing what is generally available
  • Finding and verifying citations
  • Finding material that's not in the published scholarly literature. (The government has a mandate to publish to the Web, and lots of organizations, think tanks, and foundations publish their research online exclusively. Also, if you’re looking for conference proceedings or white papers, the Web is a good place to start.)

Effective use of the Web means more than just throwing a couple of keywords into a search engine and seeing what the first few results are. The "Using Google" section offers some tips for performing a targeted Google search as well as tips for other available sources of information.