Doing Library Research for Your Scientific Paper

Before you can write your scientific research paper, you need to do these things:

Understanding Your Assignment

Before you begin, you should understand your assignment.

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Finding a Topic

Your assignment may ask you to write on a given topic, or choose one of your own.

If you can choose your own topic and you donít know what to write about, there are a few things you can do to help find a topic:

  • Browse through news headlines (including online science news like the AP Newswire Science Headlines at Yahoo or Discovery Channel News Briefs) and magazines for something that catches your interest.
  • Keep an eye out for possible topics while watching TV or listening to news reports on the radio.
  • Jot down a note anytime you find yourself asking, "I wonder why/what/how__________" in your class or while studying.
  • Browse through specialized encyclopedias for your discipline for possible ideas.
  • Brainstorm. Start with a blank sheet of paper. Write a word or phrase down related to your discipline. Around this term, write down related ideas, focusing on facts and questions. Do the same from each of those terms. Don't edit as you go - just write down what comes to mind. Draw lines between terms if you like.

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Finding Background Information

Whether or not you are given a topic or choose your own, youíll need to have a basic understanding of your subject. In the Introduction section of your paper you will draw on this basic knowledge and make references to previous research made on the topic. Also, by paying special attention to questions raised by previous research, you may find it easy to come up with a hypothesis to test.

  • Check general and specialized encyclopedias.
  • Use the Hawaii Voyager Catalog to find books, videos, pamphlets, and other materials on your topic. Scan the books on the shelves, looking at the tables of contents of each. Skim interesting chapters for relevant sections.
  • Use EBSCO's Academic Search Premier and other computerized indexes to periodicals to find journal articles on you subject. Read the abstracts of these articles.
  • Use Internet Directories and Search Engines like Google and Yahoo to find information on the Internet on your topic. Look especially for FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions files on your subject.

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Developing Your Hypothesis

While doing your background library research it is likely you will begin developing a hypotheses for your project. As you read through the available material, keep your tentative hypothesis in mind while asking yourself:

  • What question will I attempt to answer in my paper on this topic?
  • Is there enough supporting material available? Do I have enough information to successfully support the basis of my hypothesis? If not, can I broaden the scope of the topic?
  • Is there too much material available? Or is the scope of my hypothesis too broad to realistically test? If so, is there a narrow aspect of the subject I can focus on?
  • Is the information Iím finding relevant? Does it meet my standards for quality and trustworthiness? Consider such things as the authorís point of view, the expertise of the author, the date of publication, the intended audience, and the accuracy of the information.

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Follow-up Library Research

After designing and conducting your empirical research, you may find it useful to do further library research to help you analyze your data or to supplement the Introduction and Discussion areas of your paper. Three useful techniques in finding additional materials are:

  • Look at the works cited (bibliographies) in the most relevant articles and books youíve found. Are there articles or books listed that could be of use for your project?
  • Find out if the authors of those relevant articles have published other research on your topic.
  • Ask a librarian for assistance. Their job is to help you track down information!

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Updated September 20, 2004