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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.

Most of your courses will require you to complete a research assignment of one kind or another. In general, the goal of a research assignment is to get you to gather information about a certain topic, analyze that information, and report what you’ve learned as part of a class presentation or research paper/essay.

Types of Research Assignments

You can find useful information about the different types of research and writing assignments at the Online Writing Lab.

Important Things to Note About Your Assignment

Relationship to other assignments: Some professors will design their assignments to flow together. You may find that each assignment requires you to do a little bit more work towards writing a big final paper.

Choice of topic: You may be given a list of possible research topics, or you may be asked to choose a topic of interest to you. In either case, it’s a good idea to chat with your prof and do some preliminary research before deciding.

Number and Type of Sources: Often, professors will ask that you use a minimum number of sources in your paper. Information sources can be almost anything, but you may be required to use only, or mostly, academic/peer-reviewed sources.

Citation/Referencing Style: There are many different styles for referencing your sources. The most commonly used styles are APA, MLA, Chicago, and CSE. Make sure you know which you are expected to use, and take a moment to learn the basics of the style.

Length: You will usually be asked to write a paper of specified length. Be sure to start early and give yourself enough time to do the appropriate amount of research and writing.

Library Access

Completing your assignments will require access to the library’s collection. These are specialized resources you won’t find available freely on the Internet. You can access the library’s online collections (databases) through our website. If you are off-campus, you’ll be required to authenticate with your WebAdvisor username and password.

The following definition of plagiarism can be found in the University of Winnipeg Academic Misconduct Policy:

“Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty in which students present published or unpublished work (written, digital, or other) of another person or persons, or one’s own prior work, in its entirety or in part, as their own original work.”

Every student is expected to produce work that follows the rules of academic integrity, so avoiding plagiarism is a fundamental skill in university. To be clear, you will generally be expected to use other people’s ideas to support the points in your paper, but the source of every idea that isn’t your own needs to be cited in a suitable format.

There are two ways that plagiarism can happen: intentionally and unintentionally. We’ll talk about each here.

Intentional Plagiarism

With the abundance of information available online, it’s incredibly easy to take credit for something you didn’t write, if that’s your intention. However, simply copying information from a website or blog and pasting it into your paper without crediting the source is considered plagiarism. Add this to the act of getting someone (or paying them) to write your paper for you, which is clearly unethical, and you have an idea of how intentional plagiarism happens.

As easy as it is, though, it’s also very easy to detect. If you plagiarize something, your professor only needs to do a couple of simple Google searches to figure it out. Also, in recent years years, professors have started using software programs (e.g. Turnitin) to detect how original their students’ work is, so catching plagiarizers has also become much easier.

Unintentional Plagiarism

Plagiarism can also happen by accident. This usually results from sloppy note-taking or by writing your paper in a rush. Even if you accidentally use another person’s idea without credit, you are still plagiarizing them. Also, most students don’t realize it’s possible to plagiarize yourself, by using your own published ideas without citation.

Basically, any idea that comes from a source (books, articles, websites, videos, previous papers, etc.) needs to be cited.

There can be serious penalties for plagiarism (again, see the Academic Misconduct Policy). It isn’t worth it to try, and taking the time to properly cite and reference your sources isn’t too difficult once you get in the habit.

Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Create a reference for all your sources, in the format outlined by your prof.
  • Take detailed notes as your read each source, noting the page numbers for each idea.
  • Paraphrase major points and indicate if an idea is a direct quote.
  • In your paper, properly cite all the ideas from your sources.
  • Create a bibliography or works cited, including references for all your sources.

It's your responsibility to keep your sources organized and to cite them correctly in your paper. Modern students enjoy the convenience of using online reference managers to make this process easier. The library provides access to a reference manager called Refworks. You can create an account and use this tool to organize your readings, share them within a group, and automatically generate bibliographies.

Refworks Sign-up/Login

Exporting to Refworks

Most library search tools and databases will include an option to cite or export references. Each interface is different, so be on the look-out for Export, Share, or Refworks links. The process is generally straightforward, but if you need assistance, consult this page or contact the library.

Adding References to Folders

It’s a good idea to keep your sources organized in relevant folders. You can create a folder using the button near the top of the screen. To add a reference, select it by checking the box, then hover over the add to folder icon and select the desired folder. You can access your folders from the left-hand menu.

Staying Organized

Continue adding any interesting or relevant sources you find. Having these sources organized in your account will come in handy later on when you begin reading, note-taking, and eventually writing your paper.

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