The Writing Center


Beginning a research paper can be overwhelming unless you know how to set goals for yourself when you read. Think of gathering sources as a triangle where the top are the 5-6 excellent sources:

5-6 excellent sources -read

10-12 good ones-skim

20-30 available sources-find

40 titles in databases-begin with

For a research paper of about 7-10 pages, you should think of gathering 40 titles exactly on your subject from a variety of places (see below). But only 20-30 will be available to you (some will be missing, others don’t arrive in time from interlibrary loan, others are misleading and don’t relate to your subject at all). When you do find what is available, then skim these sources and make a quick decision: yes or no? Those that look good (that answer your research question) you save. Pitch those that don’t address your specific question. Finally, we come to READING. Save your precious time only for those 5-6 BEST sources; those are the ones you want for quotes and paraphrases in your eventual draft.


Most students need a variety of sources–not just books or journal articles or web sites. Think of checking out the following sources for your paper:

  • books, chapters in books (books are often easier to read than journals)

  • journal articles

  • magazine articles

  • newspaper articles

  • Internet Web sites

You find these sources through INDEXES, either on the computer or in the library reserve section. An index is a collection of what’s been written in a particular area for a particular year. At CSU, you can access these indexes through the library web site using the following steps:

  • find the CSU web site

  • go to the libraries page:
    Michael Schwartz Library (
    Law Library (

  • click on Indexes and Abstracts

  • you can search by Title and Subject

  • the most general index is Periodical Abstracts – good for quick info but not always scholarly

  • check a number of databases until your subject comes up easily – don’t get discouraged – no one knows all these databases or how they work, just keep at it for about 1-2 hours.

  • be VERY VERY selective about the titles you pick – aim for 40 on your subject. The databases can bring up thousands of hits–be very selective.


Once you have a working title list, make another separate trip to the library for the next step–this stuff can be very tedious and your short term memory tires quickly so it’s better to make separate trips of only 2 hours maximum.

Now you have to find your sources. If you go into OhioLink, you can check whether CSU owns it or not. If we do, you can find the source yourself in the library. If not, you have 2 choices. If another OhioLink school owns it, make your request through OhioLink. If no school owns it, you have to go through Interlibrary Loan. You find their web site on the main page of the Library web page. In either case, you don’t have to leave your chair to order your sources. Just remember: OhioLink will NOT call you to tell you your books have arrived. You have to check the SCHOLAR page under "View Your Own Record" to see the status of your order. It takes about a week for most books to come in through OhioLink; Interlibrary Loan can take longer.


For sources you’ve skimmed, make up annotating cards as follows:

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1995.
---looks great for my subject, especially Chap. 9 on marriage

The card has the usual bibliographical information and a quick note to remind yourself about what you wanted to read.

Another set of cards–notecards–can be used for your quotes and paraphrases. The 2 cards–annotating and notetaking cards–make writing easier because your cards can be indexed according to subjects. See the example below:

Goleman success in marriage (my subject)

143–successful couples "show each other that they are being listened to. Since feeling is often exactly what the aggrieved partner is really after, emotionally an act of empathy is a masterly tension reducer."

Writers often keep 2 sets of cards so they can use their research easily in different projects.

If you have any questions, call the Writing Center at ext. 6981.


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