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Online Students Use of the Library

This guide is intended for students who are using the library online to help guide the experience and make the library website easier to understand and use!

Try These First

Try these first gives some basic information on the most common research sources that students use within the library. 

Help with Research

There are three ways to typically acquire research help from the librarians:

  1. Ask-A-Librarian is a service available to you to chat with a Penn State librarian. Live chat is available from 8 AM - 8 PM EST. 
  2. Personal research consultations can provide subject-specific assistance on more advanced research questions
  3. Research project calculator can be used as a time management tool to effectively structure the research process when completing an assignment.

The Research Process

As a student, you might not think of yourself as 'doing' research in the way that people in the field you are studying do research. However, the processes are very similar and learning the research process while in school can only help when you enter or improve your position in the workplace. This page will go over ways to improve your research skills from searching effectively to evaluating information to producing new information. You will see a variety of tutorials throughout the page. The research process involves choosing a topic, generating a research question, selecting keywords for that topic, searching for that topic, collecting required resources for the topic, synthesizing and organizing these resources, citing the sources used, and writing about the topic in a way that answers the research question. 

Effective Research Strategies

How do you start researching? Do you know what points you want to make and look for resources to support your points? Do you conduct a literature review to find a topic? This video will teach you a little bit about one way to start researching for your class projects or for your own personal research!

Choosing a Research Topic

One of the hardest parts of doing research is actually picking the topic. You may think that you have the perfect topic only to find out that you can't find information on the topic or find way too much information on the topic. Choosing a topic requires the perfect blend of specificity and generality, of interest personally and academically, and of identifying keywords and relevant vocabulary on that topic. The resources here will help you choose the perfect topic and learn how to see if that topic is a good fit for your research project.

Creating a Concept Map

Creating a Research Question

Creating a research question already requires you to choose a good topic. Without a good topic you will have trouble coming up with a researchable research question. Logically, without a good research question you will not be able to do a good search with keywords to find information to answer the question. So the whole research process is connected!! This video will help you to think about how to craft that research question. 

Effectively Searching with Keywords

Keywords are often the key to finding relevant resources for your research assignment. Keywords are extremely helpful when you do not know the exact title or author of a resource. However, it is not easy to select the right keywords. The information listed below will help you to learn how to select effective keywords. 

Effectively Evaluating Information

As you begin your research process, you will undoubtedly find many sources of information. How do you weed out the quality sources from the less quality sources? How do you determine if a source is relevant for your assignment? Luckily, there is a way to evaluate the information you find and it is known as the If I Apply test. This provides you with a frame to look at the overall scope of information. In this section on research help, you will find a matrix of this to help you learn what to look for in both books and websites to determine if it is a good information source for your current purpose.

Citing Sources

Citing sources is essential for the research process. Many students cite sources and include quotes in their paper because they are afraid of committing plagiarism. While this is a valid concern, there are other reasons that it is important to cite sources. By citing sources you are interacting with other scholars who write in this field. For example, when you cite another paper but add some of your own original knowledge on that paper you are contributing new ideas to the field. As you become an expert in a field you may find yourself talking about the field in your personal or online media accounts in addition to your professional account and citing sources allows you to collect information in a field that can be used for later use. 

Different fields and majors use different citation styles! The styles help to create standardization in a field and understand how references are used. Within this box, you will find links to many different citation styles. Make sure to use the citation style that is required by your instructor/class/field.