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A Beginner's Guide to Library Research

Once you've figured out the basics of the library, you'll need to develop a research plan, find some sources, choose the best ones, and use the information you've found to help write a research paper or report.
Scholarly Sources

Your professors will generally ask that you use scholarly sources in your research assignments. Sometimes this means using articles from peer-reviewed journals, other times it will be be your responsibility to decide if the information is coming from reputable academic sources. We’ll cover both scenarios here.

Peer-reviewed Journals

Some journals require that the articles they publish be peer-reviewed. This means that before the articles appear in the journal, they are reviewed by a panel of experts in the field of study. This panel is tasked with ensuring the article is of good academic quality.

You can limit your search to peer-reviewed articles in most library databases.

Limit to Peer-reviewed Articles
Limit to Peer-reviewed Articles

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

The majority of the world’s information is written for the general public to enjoy. In fact, most websites, blogs, or Twitter accounts (and even magazine articles and books) are written by fairly ordinary people to be read by other ordinary people. It’s easy to publish your writing through these avenues and there are very few built-in processes to ensure that the information is correct.

This doesn’t mean that only peer-reviewed articles contain good, factual information. It just means that there is potentially greater room for misinformation from popular sources. If you find a source that is not peer-reviewed (or even if it is), you should evaluate it on a basic criteria of scholarly value.

  • Author: Who wrote it? What are their credentials or background? Why is their view important? Do they have any biases that might skew their viewpoint?
  • Audience: Who is it written for? Does the source use specialized vocabulary?
  • Documentation: Does the author use other sources? If so, are they listed in a Reference List or Works Cited? Are these sources scholarly?
  • Publisher: Who published this information? Are they a College/University or scholarly association? Do they have any biases that might skew what they decide to publish?

If you’re not sure about one of your sources, ask your professor. They will be able to provide advice about what level of scholarliness you should look for.

Citation Styles

The purpose of any citation style is to link the cited parts of your text to their sources. If something is an original idea, there is no need to cite it as it is already attributed to you the author. However, if you got the idea from one of your sources, you will need to cite it so the reader knows where it came from. You will do this by identifying it with a brief in-text citation, followed by a more complete reference in the bibliography at the end.

In-text Citations

Most styles place in-text citations between parentheses (APA, MLA) but some may use superscript numbers with a footnote (Chicago). They will normally consist of the author’s last name and the year of publication. The purpose is to point the reader to a more complete reference in the bibliography.

Early onset results in a more persistent and severe course (Kessler, 2003).

If the author’s name already appears as part of the text, only include the year.

Kessler (2003) found that among epidemiological samples…


At the end of your paper, you will include full bibliographic references for the sources you cited in the text. This will include the author’s name, year of publication, title, source (i.e. journal title or website, etc., if applicable), volume, issue, page numbers, publisher, and location of publication. Different styles will have you format the information differently, but the purpose is always to allow your reader to locate the source you used.

Kessler, R. C. (2003). Epidemiology of women and depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 74(1), 5–13.

Which Style?

There are hundreds of different styles, but most undergraduates will only ever use a maximum of three or four of them.

The style you’re expected to use will often be listed in the assignment, but you can always check with your professor to make sure. Each of these guides are held in the library, at the reference desk.


You can download an Add-on for Microsoft Word that will link your Refworks account, allowing you to easily and efficiently cite your sources. The Add-on is called Write-n-Cite.


You can download the Add-on from inside your Refworks account under Tools -> Write-n-Cite. Download the current version and copy the Login Code. Follow the prompts to install.

Now start Word. You may need to make the Write-n-Cite toolbar visible by selecting it under View -> Toolbars. Login to your account by pasting the Login Code into the appropriate box. It may take a minute to download your user data, but once complete, you should no have access to all the references from your Refworks account.

Inserting Citations and a Bibliogrpahy

As you write your paper, insert citations using the drop down menu in the toolbar, either by selecting one of the commonly cited items or clicking Insert other citation…. Feel free to edit the citation, if necessary.

Once you’re finished your paper, adding the bibliography is as simple as clicking the Insert Bibliography icon in the toolbar. Again, feel free to correct any errors or omissions.


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