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Information Literacy: Writing a Research Paper

The purpose of this LibGuide is to provide students with resources on information literacy.

Research is a Process

Writing a research paper requires you to use your information literacy skills. There are many points to consider before you write that first sentence. Getting started can often be the most difficult step, but when you look at each step of the process individually, it becomes more manageable.

On this page, we will examine the different steps in writing a research paper:

Choosing a Research Topic

Developing a Strong Research Question

Locating Academic Sources

Types of Sources

Reference Sources & Academic Databases

Source Quality

The Purdue Online Writing Lab from Purdue University also has an excellent guide to writing research papers.

Types of Sources & Academic Databases


One volume summaries of current and historical facts and general knowledge.
Examples: World Almanac and Book of Facts
Book of maps (physical, political, statistical, historical).
Example: The Times Atlas of the World
Alphabetical list of words and definitions. These can also focus on specific subjects.
Examples: Random House Webster's College Dictionary
Contain more extensive articles than do dictionaries. There are general encyclopedias such as The New Encyclopaedia Britannica and specialized encyclopedias.
Print and electronic collections to periodical literature.
Example: Book Review Digest

Choosing a Research Topic

Primary Sources

Primary Source: In scholarship, a document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic, used in preparing a derivative work. Primary sources include original manuscripts, periodical articles, reporting original research or thought, diaries, memoirs, letters, journals, photographs, drawings, posters, film footage, sheet music, songs, interviews, government documents, public records, eyewitness accounts, news clippings, etc.



How to Develop a Strong Research Question

Secondary Sources

Secondary Source: Any published or unpublished work that is one step removed from the original source, usually describing, summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, derived from, or based on primary source materials, for example, a review, critical analysis, second-person account, or biographical or historical study. Also refers to material other than primary sources used in the preparation of a written work. 





Finding Academic Research Online

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary source: A written work, such as a chapter in a textbook or entry in a reference book, based entirely on secondary sources, rather than on original research involving primary documents. Whether a source is secondary or tertiary can be determined by examining the bibliography (if one is provided). Another clue is that secondary sources are almost always written by experts, but tertiary sources may be written by staff writers who have an interest in the topic but are not scholars on the subject.



Source Quality

One of the most important aspects of writing a research paper is evaluating the quality of your sources. The CRAAP test provides a list of questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not a source is reliable and credible enough to use in your academic research paper. CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.