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ENGL 101: English I: About this Guide

This research guide is intended for use by students taking ENGL 101. It will help you learn how to use the library's resources for essays, research proposals, or research papers. Use the tabs above to see pages offering general research help, search strategies, to learn about different kinds of sources, and how to locate different kinds of sources. Tabs and pages marked with professor names provide helpful guidance specific to their classes or assignments.

Further below on this page, review what research is and isn't, get tips for choosing a topic, see topic suggestions, and find out what to do to start to learn more about your topic. You'll also see the ways you can get help from the librarians and learning center tutors. 

What is Research?

Research is a systematic investigation of a topic through the study of materials and information sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.

It is a process that is often not straightforward or linear. One search is not research, most often you will need several search sessions. It can be frustrating and time-consuming. It is likely to take you in unexpected directions. Exploration and learning is part of the process, so you need to allow time for discovery. Be open to pathways and finding information about your topic you didn't expect to.

Research involves several stages:

  • Identifying and developing your topic, research question, problem statement, argument, or thesis. Deciding what questions you and your audience may have about it that you need to find answers or information about.
  • Finding background information. Gathering basic information to better understand your topic and further sources. Developing your focus, identifying sub-topics and smaller ideas that will form the rest of your research
  • Locating and collecting a variety of information sources. In addition to the background information sources, gathering additional, more detailed or in-depth sources. Gathering and recording source publication information to prepare for citing them.  
  • Reading and evaluating what you have found. Determining if the information you found is relevant, useful, appropriate for the assignment, and credible. Assessing if your needs and questions were answered with the sources you have. Deciding which sources you will use and if you need to search for more to fill any gaps. 
  • Writing your research paper or preparing your presentation. Incorporating the information from your sources with your own ideas and analysis of the topic.
  • Citing the sources you used in your essay, paper, or presentation. 

The process may look a little different every time you do it. Topics, questions, or prompts given to you by your professor may not need as much development and work as a topic or question of your own choice that you are exploring. 

Different research topics require different research sources. Your scope and the size of the assignment may determine how many you need. An analysis of a piece of media or a text of literature may not require as many sources or the same types of sources as an informative or argumentative position paper or essay, for example.

Choosing a Topic

When picking a topic, consider:

  • your professor's prompt and the assignment instructions
  • picking something that interests you and that you want to learn more about
  • something that will be interesting and relatable or important to your audience
  • a personal issue, problem, concern, or experience, since you might have some existing knowledge about it
  • if it's manageable and the right scope (not too broad but also not too specific)
  • if it's likely to have research about it

Need some inspiration? Here are suggestions from library databases (you may need to log in with NCC login, your student id number or username and Workday password):

  • Topics (Credo Reference). Switch from All Subjects to a specific subject using the drop-down menu. 
  • Browse Topics (CQ Researcher). Choose a topic from the list to explore reports about that topic. 
  • Browse Issues (Issues & Controversies). Choose a topic to see an overview and pro/con articles written about it. 
  • Browse Issues (Opposing Viewpoints - Gale in Context). Browse the full list or choose a category from the drop-down menu to explore a specific subject.

Remember, you may need to revise and make adjustments to your topic as you start to find information about it. 

When You Don't Know Anything About Your Topic

If you have absolutely no knowledge about a topic when you are starting your search, it may be helpful to become more familiar with it by searching for it on Wikipedia or doing a Google search. Be careful:

  • Don't use any of the information you find in a Wikipedia article in your assignment. 
  • Don't use any information from a web site that isn't credible or appropriate for academic research.

What you can do instead:

  • Gather ideas and terminology that applies to your topic.
  • See the possibilities for where your research could go.
  • Make notes of ideas and concepts to search for later in credible, reliable, appropriate sources.
  • Check any listed references or external links -- those original sources might be appropriate to use.
  • Check the library's resources (books, reference books, and articles) that may give you the same information.

See the Finding Books and eBooks and Articles in Library Databases pages of this guide for help using library resources to find information sources.

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The library has compiled answers to our most commonly asked questions in our Library Q&As. If you don't find what you are looking for, please send us your question.

Get Help from the Learning Center

Do you need someone to read over your paper or help you with citations? Visit the Learning Center or make an appointment online to meet with a tutor. 

They also have many guides and handouts available to help you create organized and grammatically correct papers.

Related Research Guides

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Guide Reviewed October 29, 2021