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Planning Ahead

Keep track of which assignments are due when, especially those assignments that may require some research materials. Depending on where you live, materials may take a few days or more to reach you. Last minute requests for library material will be dealt with to the best of our ability, however, planning ahead of time is the best idea. Novanet Express usually takes between 2-4 business days. Interlibrary loan can take weeks depending on the location of the item.

Choosing and developing a topic

If your instructor has left term paper topics up to you, there are many ways you can find a good topic.

  • Look through the subject index of your textbook, your class notes or an encyclopedia to find a particular aspect of the subject that interests you.
  • Find issues of journals that deals with the subject and look at the table of contents to investigate what topics have been studied and what angles were covered. Textbooks or course readings could also be useful for exploring the topic.
  • Ask yourself questions about what you are reading to find any gaps in the research that you could investigate.
  • If you continue to have problems finding an appropriate topic, consult your professor or ask a librarian.

Developing a thesis statement

  • "Your thesis is an assumption about your topic, an approach to it, a proposition to be supported, a purpose for writing, the controlling idea that determines what kind of material you will look for." (Coyle p.17) A thesis statement should be the most concise declaration of what you are trying to prove.
  • Brainstorm about your topic by examining the many facets of the subject.
  • Show how relevant your thesis statement is to the topic.
  • Keep your topic precise. Let the reader know what you will explore and what are the limits that you will not explore during the course of your essay.
  • Your thesis statement should guide the outline of your essay.

Finding Material

  • Check library catalogues (Novanet and/or local libraries) to find material that would suit your topic. 
  • You should search for your topic by subject heading to get the most relevant list of resources. 
  • Books tend to contain a more general overview of the topic. Check the index or table of contents for your topic within the subject. Certain chapters may prove to be very useful. Books are located by using library catalogues such as Novanet. 
  • Journal articles tend to provide more recent information on a narrower range of the topic. Use indexes and databases to locate journal articles on your topic. Remember to have synonyms for your search terms. 
  • Books and journal articles have bibliographies that list other possible leads for pertinent articles. If you identify a useful source in a bibliography, check Novanet to see if our system carries the journal or book title.
  • The Internet is another useful source, that should be used with caution. It is important that you evaluate the information carefully.
  • Google Scholar is an excellent search engine for locating academic information. 
  • Most academic libraries have created subject guides on the web that list useful websites by topic.
Evaluating the information

Whether print or electronic, you must select the material you will use in your paper carefully. High quality material will give you the basis for a high quality research paper.

Print Sources

Basically, there are two types of journal articles that you will come across while doing your research. Generally, your professor would prefer that you use as many "scholarly" or "peer- reviewed" journal articles that you can find.


  • Plain looking
  • Published by and for researchers and professionals
  • Articles should include references
  • Introduction may indicate peer evaluation
  • little or no advertising

 Non- Academic Journals

  • Flashier appearance
  • Published for general interest
  • Contain opinion-pieces more than researched articles
  • Noticeable amounts of advertising

It can be difficult to distinguish the two, especially if you obtain the articles using a database. A good indication that you have found a scholarly journal are the presence of a bibliography. You also have to use your own critical thinking skills to question the material that you are citing. To find out more about thinking critically about your material, read the points presented on the Cornell University Library. 

Evaluating Web sources

Before you incorporate web sites into your bibliography, you should evaluate the information very carefully. Have a look at this Critical Evaluation of Web Resources criteria list.

Writing Tips

  • Take notes while you are doing your initial reading. You may find it helpful to use recipe cards, one for every idea. Remember to note the source of each idea. That will help you cite your paper quickly and easily.
  • Once you have completed your initial research, divide the cards into categories, or points that you will be covering in your paper. What you should end up with are notes to support the various points that you intend to discuss.
  • Organize the cards within the categories. This technique organizes your argument while interspersing your sources.
  • Write a draft for each category.
  • Write the intermittent paragraphs to link the points together.
  • Read your paper out loud to ensure flow between your points

**This section was based on advice written in:
Harnack, Andrew. (1994) Writing Research Papers: A student guide for use with Opposing Viewpoints.U.S.A.:Greenhaven Press.

Writing workshops & other resources

Print Guides

  • Harnack, Andrew. (1994) Writing Research Papers: A student guide for use with Opposing Viewpoints.U.S.A.:Greenhaven Press.
  • Gibaldi, Joseph.(1995) MLA handbook for writers of research papers 4th ed. New York : Modern Language Association of America.
  • Richlin-Knonsky et. at.(1998) A guide to writing sociology papers 4th ed. New York : St. Martin's Press.