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Research 411: Choosing Sources

Use this guide to start and organize a research assignment

Talk to Your Reference Librarians

Need research help? Having trouble finding, identifying or evaluating library resources? That is what your CSM librarians are here to do.  

La Plata 301-934-7626 Leonardtown 240-725-5360 Prince Frederick 443-550-6061

Find Books

Search for print books, audiobooks, videos, and music

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Books may be useful when:

  • You need a broad overview. There are times when you want someone to explain everything to you - beginning to end. Books are very appropriate for this.
  • Your research topic is historical. Books lend themselves to topics in which the facts don't change much over time.
  • You want several opinions from one place. Some books collect essays that give you several points of view in one source.

Books may not be useful when:

  • The topic is very recent. Books take years to get researched, written, published, purchased, and put on library shelves. If the issue you are researching is constantly changing, a book may be outdated by the time it gets to the library.
  • You have a fairly narrow topic. Sometimes books are to broad-based to address specific or narrow points.

Start with a keyword search. Keyword searches look for your terms in the title, author, table of contents, and subject fields.

If you do not get any (or enough) results, your search might be too narrow or you might be entering too many terms (example: cigarette, smoking, health, teenagers, effects). Try to broaden your search by entering only one or two key concepts (smoking, teenagers).

If you get too many results, try to add terms to your search to explore a more specific aspect. For example, a search for "violence" produces 6022 results. Adding "media" produces 263 results. Searching "violence" "media" and "gender" together narrows the results to (a more manageable) 33.

If you find books that might be useful, look at the subjects listed in the record. Those subjects can be used to find more books on your topic.

The CSM library uses Call Numbers to organize books on the shelves. 

Call Numbers are a book's shelf address. The combination of letters and numbers tells you where to find it in the library.

When you look up a book on the CSM library web site, you'll find the Call Number on the book info page. Write down this number and match it up with label on the book on the shelf.

Books with call numbers that start with REF are in the reference collection and cannot be checked out.

Books that don't start with REF are available for check-out with a valid CSM Student ID.

If you need help finding a book, ask a librarian!


Find Journal Articles

Articles may be useful when:

  • Your topic is very recent. Articles, especially in newspapers and magazines, are intended to keep people up-to-date on the latest developments in various issues.
  • Your research topic is very narrow in scope. Some topics are so specific, whole books will not be written on them.

Articles may not be useful when:

  • You need background or overview information. Articles tend to focus on a specific aspect of a topic.
  • Your topic covers a long time span. When an issue has a long history, you may only find one aspect discussed in an article.

Once you have a topic, the next step is to think of keywords before you begin searching.

Keyword brainstorming ideas:

  • Think of words (or phrases) that describe your topic--e.g. names, places, dates, concepts, procedures, events.
  • Think of synonyms and terms related to these words/phrases. 
  • Choose the 2 or 3 words or phrases which best describe your topic.

To find more descriptive keywords that you haven't thought of, identify a few particulary useful results from your initial searches and

  • Click the book or article title for more information.
  • Look at the subjects listed in the records.
  • Look at the abstract and first few paragraphs of articles.

Now try searching again using the keywords, terms and phrases that better describe your topic, perhaps in combination with some of those on your initial list. This technique helps you refine your searches to yield even more relevant results, and you'll have the books and articles you need for your paper.


Google Scholar: Give it a try!

Consider the Following

Source evaluation!

Currency - How recent are the facts and figures in the book, journal article or website? 

Relevancy - How does the information apply to your research topic?

Authority - Was the book, journal article or website peer-reviewed? Does the author listed cited references?

Purpose - Why was the book, journal article or website written?

Think about the source before you cite it.