Researching a topic requires essentially three skills:
1) Finding the best and truest of what has been written and said about that topic
2) Doing the above most quickly
3) Giving proper credit to the sources you use to write about the topic.

While growing content and faster connections make the internet a powerful tool for retrieving information we want, the information we find there may not be as reliable as the materials your teachers and librarians have hand-picked for you to borrow from the library.

The internet has made research both easier and more difficult. Imagine you are going on an overnight trip with some friends, and you make a short list of a few things to pick up at the local MegaMart: a disposable camera, some batteries for your CD player, a six pack of soda, and some toothpaste.

While you are strolling fifty MegaMart aisles for a half hour to find your items, you realize that they could have been bought and bagged in five minutes at the corner drugstore. The internet is like the MegaMart. It provides you with lots of choices (not to mention distractions!) at fifty different websites, but doesn't necessarily help you get what you need quickly.

If you are on a schedule, you need to decide how you'll spend your research time to get the job done most efficiently. Think back to the list you made before you went to MegaMart. Imagine how much more time you would have taken if you had decided what you need by wandering up and down aisles. This research guide shows you not only how to find what you want quickly, but also how to make the "shopping list", your plan for finding only what you need, not whatever you stumble upon while surfing the internet or flipping through books.

Finally, this research guide shows you how to keep track of what you find, and how to give credit to others who have studied and published materials about your topic before you. You may use actual 3x5 index cards to do this, or your teachers may present you with some index card software you can use on your computers. We make bibliographies not only out of respect (and because law requires us to), but also to help others find the sources we used to complete our research. Sometimes the order of items in a bibliography is hard to remember, so we hope the examples in the guide will help.

1. Understand the Assignment

Answer the questions in the section below in order to make sure you understand the assignment.

A. What is the general topic of the assignment?

B. How many sources will I need?

C. What is the final product (paper, poster, oral report, etc.)?

D. Is there a set length to the project? If so, what is it?

E. When is each component of my assignment due?

2. What Makes a Good Topic?

Ask Yourself the Following Questions:

A. Is this topic PERTINENT?
Does it have to do with the subject at hand? If the assignment is to research fruits grown in Kentucky, don't choose to research
"bananas" - it is not pertinent.

B. Is it RICH?
Can you find enough information on it? Don't research "Women jockeys who have won the Triple Crown" if there are none.

C. Is it NARROW ENOUGH for the assignment?
Don't choose "Viruses" for a two page science paper on "Diseases." Choose, instead, "Measles."

3. Brainstorming for a Topic

A. Brainstorm a list of topics that interest you and that fit the requirements of the
assignment. List them:




B. Or, try a "graphic organizer," like MindMeister, to help you think of possible topics.

C. Consider which topic interests you most and note it:

4. Finding Sources

In the past you may have used the Internet or a newspaper to find information for a school project. There are many places to look but some may be better than others. For example, you wouldn't wait for next years almanac to get the score of last night's game. Nor would you go online to find movie times if the newspaper is in front of you. In the same way, when doing longer research, you want to find the right tool for the job, depending on the subject and how recent the information must be. Here are some good places to start!

A. Destiny
Our online catalog of the Saddlebrook Library Media Center's books and media. Searching for resources does not require a login, but if you want to use the account features like making lists, using shelves, submitting reviews, and sending email to friends, you must use your assigned login.

B. Student Resources in Context - Infotrac
Saddlebrook's research database. This is the best place to start researching a topic, because all the resources are authoritative, meaning they have been written by experts and edited by a publisher. Use your account login credentials issues

C. Pasco Libraries
The local public library system. Our closest branch is the New River library, located a few miles east on the left-hand side of SR52 after you exit Saddlebrook and turn right. You must have a library card to use their many wonderful online research databases.

D. Florida Electronic Library
The state's collection of online resources, including excellent databases. You must also have a library card to access them.

E. Use the Reference Sources and Research Links pages to find more resources.

5. Brainstorming for the Best Sources

List the sources that are likely to be the most useful for learning about your topic:
Now, look at your list. Cross out any sources that, on second thought, might not be useful.

6. Evaluating Your Sources

A. Preliminary Evaluation of Sources

1. Did you find enough information to meet the requirements of the assignment?
2. Are your sources understandable to you?
3. Are your sources current enough? Not out of date?
4. Are your sources too broad or too vague?
5. Do you know how to access the information at home, if needed?

B. Final Evaluation of Sources

1. Who is the AUTHOR of this book or web site?

  • What are the author's credentials? Do you know anything about the author's
education, training or experience?

  • In the case of web sites, do you know whether they are commercial, educational,
governmental, etc.? (.com, .edu, .gov)

2. Is the CONTENT of the book or site accurate and reliable?

  • Is there support for statistics and facts?
  • Could you verify the information in other sources?
  • How current is the information? If it is a web site, when was it last updated?

3. Do you know the PURPOSE of the information? Is it intended to inform, teach, sell,
persuade, entertain?

  • Does the presentation of the information seem fair?
  • Can you distinguish between facts and opinion?

C. Checklist for Evaluating Sources of Information

D. RADCAB - a simple evaluation of information


E. Evaluating Sources of Information page

7. Library Worksheet

List Your Possible Sources:





State Your Topic:

List Five Questions You'd Like to Answer About Your Topic:





8. Plagiarism

Your research paper is a collaboration between you and your sources. To be fair and honest, you must indicate when you borrow another writer's ideas or words. You do this by documenting, or citing, your sources. "Citing your sources" means nothing more than telling your reader whose ideas or words you have used and where you found them. To use someone else's words or ideas without giving them credit is dishonest. It is called plagiarism.

Plagiarism is very serious. At Sayre School, intentional plagiarism is considered a violation of the Honor Code.
Two different acts are considered plagiarism: (1) borrowing someone's ideas, information, or words without citing the source and (2) citing the source, but paraphrasing the source too closely, without using quotation marks to indicate that words and phrases have been borrowed.

You must, of course, document all direct quotations. You must also document any ideas borrowed from a source: paraphrases of sentences, summaries of paragraphs or chapters, statistics or little-known facts, and tables, graphs, or diagrams.

The only exception is common knowledge or information that your readers could find in any number of general sources because it is commonly known. For example, everyone knows that Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky. It is common knowledge and would not have to be cited.

In summary: Do not plagiarize. Document all quotations and borrowed ideas. Avoid paraphrases that closely resemble your sources.*
* The text of this section is adapted from Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1991.

9. Using Sources: Keywords

Before actually using your sources, it is helpful to think of all the words that might be used to describe your topic. These words are your Keywords that will be used to search for information in the sources, no matter what format they are. List all that you can think of.





As you read your sources, keep a list of additional words or phrases that seem to be important to your topic.

10. Using Print Sources

Gather a number of books that may be pertinent to your topic. Ask yourself the following two questions in order to identify which sources will be the most useful:

1. Is your topic listed in the Table of Contents? If so, how? List the words the author
uses to describe your topic and the page numbers where your topic can be found.

2. Is your topic listed in the Index? If so, how? List the words the author uses to describe
your topic and the page numbers where your topic can be found. Do you find
additional related topics or a "see also" reference?

You can use a chart like the one below to keep track of which sources you want to keep.
Words Used to Describe the Topic

11. Using Online Sources

Get online to search for useful web sites. It is often a good idea to begin with a Reference Source. .
Continue with our research database and others to find articles, primary sources, media clips, and images. Search Gale's Student Resources in Context (Infotrac) database and other databases.

Using the keywords you identified, find three or more regular websites that are both current and authoritative. Remember to consider the reliability of the sites you find.
Search Engines, Search Engines for Kids, Directories and Indexes, and Social Bookmarking sites will help you find what you are looking for.

List the most promising ones by web address and name.

Name of Website
URL address of Website

12. Taking Notes

A. What is a note card?

A note card is simply a 3"x 5" index card on which you write information from your
sources. Note cards contain the information that you might include in your written or
oral report. There are also electronic versions of note cards that your teacher may ask
you to use.

B. Kinds of note cards:


When you begin working on your research, you will go to a variety of sources for information. Each time you begin working with a new source, you should complete a source card.
On each card you will record:
1. All the publication information required to include this source in your Works Cited list.
2. A code letter that you will use on all note cards that come from this source.
3. The call number of the book or URL (in the case of a web site) so you can locate it later.

Source A
937 HIN
Hinds, Kathryn. The Ancient Romans. New York: Benchmark Books, 1997
Make a SOURCE CARD for each source you look at:
Web sites
Interviews, etc.
You might not use anything from that source, in which case the card can later be thrown away, but it is still a good idea to make a card for each source. Get in the habit of doing this before you do anything else. Two examples of Source Cards:

For A Book:
Source A
Evslin, Bernard. The Minotaur. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
For A Web Site:
Source D
"This Day in History." The History Channel Online. 1998. History Channel. 3 July 2002.


Quotation cards are used to record a quote, word for word, from the source.
* Always include the writer/author of the quote

  • Punctuate correctly with quotation marks
  • Only use direct quotations for very important passages
  • Don't copy sentences from a source without showing you are using a direct quotation
Quote A.
Contributions of Augustus
"Because of Augustus and the stable form of government he created, Rome was able to survive for centuries more."
Kathryn Hinds


Paraphrase cards are used to record information, from the source, in your own words.
* Write in complete sentences, in your style

  • Write in your vocabulary
Paraphrase A.
Contributions of Augustus
Augustus helped the government of Rome to be stable and so the empire lasted for several centuries. There were other reasons that it lasted. Augustus conquered a lot of land, and more people had enough to live well so they were more content.


Combination cards are used to summarize information or opinions in the source.
* May contain a short quote to support summary

  • May include source of quote, if used
  • May be useful in drawing conclusions or making observations from research

Combination A.
Changes under Constantine
There were at least two major changes that occurred during the reign of Constantine:
1. Constantinople became the capital.
2. Christianity became the religion.
These changes "marked a break with the past, although the Roman Empire continued to survive for roughly another 150 years."

C. All Note Cards Should Include

1. Label
Located in the upper left hand corner, this label clearly describes the
information in the note.

2. Source Code
Located in the upper right hand corner, this code comes from the source card
and is used to identify the source of the note.

3. Specific Page Number
Located next to the source code, this reminds you of the specific page from
which you took the note.

4. Note
This is the information you took from the source.

Each note card should contain information about only one piece of information. Give each note a distinct title. Do not use the same title on any two cards, but use similar titles for notes on the same topic. Good titles on your cards will pay off!

D. Techtools for Taking Notes

1. Powerpoint
Each Powerpoint slide can act as a noteccard
2. Evernote
Free downloadable software for capturing, saving, and accessing notes or images from anywhere.

13. Organizing & Outlining Your Information

Now that you have collected information on your topic, it is time to organize that information so that it can be the most useful to you.

A. Sorting and Grouping

Go through your note cards and divide them into general categories. For example, if your topic is Gladiators, you may find that you have collected notes on the following related topics: weapons, training, types of gladiators, when and where gladiators were used.

Write YOUR general topic here:_
Now, sort your note cards into general categories. List the categories:

Do you have cards whose information does not fit into any of these categories?
If so, do you think the information might be useful to you, or should you just discard that card? __

B. Evaluating your Information

Of the categories you've listed, for which do you have the most information?
For which category do you have the least information?

Has your research enabled you to answer all of your original questions? _
If not, what information do you still need?

Have any new questions come up that you need to research?
If so, list those new questions.

Look back over the work you've done so far. Do you have all of the information that you need to complete this project? If not, return to the library for a little more research. It is much easier to conduct more research now, before moving on to the next step.

14. Outlining Your Information

A. Guidelines:

1. Put your thesis statement at the top.

2. Make items at the same level as parallel as possible.

3. Use sentences, unless phrases are clear.

4. Use the following system of numbers and letters:


5. Always use at least two subdivisions for each category. Nothing can be divided into
fewer than two parts!

6. Limit the number of major sections in the outline: if the list of roman numerals
begins to be too long, find a way to combine the items into a few major categories with

7. Be flexible: be prepared to change your outline as you write your draft.

B. An Example of Thesis and Outline

Thesis: There are many kinds of waves in nature

I. Seismic Waves

--A. Characteristics
---1. P wave - strongest type of body wave
---2. Longitudinal
---3. Travel through either liquid or solid matter

--B. Effects
---1. Results in liquid or solid vibrating uncontrollably
---2. Vibrations-compression or expansion of rocks

II. Sound Waves

--A. Characteristics
---1. Pure tone - the simplest sound wave
---2. Characterized by frequency

--B. Behavior
---1. Light waves and sound waves - same actions
---2. Reflect and scatter

Note that the topics beside the Roman numerals are general topics. These correspond to the categories into which you sorted your note cards. Details about those categories are found in the subdivisions.

[Information about constructing an outline from: Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martins Press, 1991.
Sample outline from: Robb, Laura. Reader's Handbook: A Student Guide for Reading and Learning. Wilmington, MA: Great Source Education Group, 2002.]

15. Documenting Work

You "document" your work when you acknowledge and give credit for ideas or information you have borrowed and used in your paper.

A. When to Document Your Work

1. use an original idea from one of your sources, whether you quote or paraphrase it
2. summarize original ideas from one of your sources
3. use factual information that is not common knowledge (common knowledge is
information that recurs in many sources)
4. quote directly from a source

B. Where to Document Your Work

1. at the end of your paper (works cited page)
2. within the body of your paper (in-text documentation)

C. How to Write Citations and Your Works Cited Page

Center the words "Works Cited" at the top of the page, then list all the sources used in your paper, in alphabetical order, by the author's last name. Following the author's last name, list the information you have recorded on your Source Card. Who, What, Where, When is a good way to remember the order in which to put this information.

Citation Guidelines

  1. Easybib Citation Guidelines
  2. Bibme Citation Guidelines

Citation and Bibliography Generators Online

  1. Easybib
  2. Bibme
  3. NoodleBib
  4. Citation Maker for elementary students
    Citation Maker for secondary students MLA Citation Maker APA Citation Maker

D. In-text Documentation

In-text documentation means putting information about one of your sources WITHIN your paper instead of at the end (on a Works Cited page).

When do you use in-text documentation?
*if you use an original idea from a source (whether quoted or paraphrased)
*if you summarize someone else's ideas
*if you quote directly

What does an in-text citation look like?
Put the author's last name and the page number within parentheses and usually at the end of a sentence.

Example: The Romans called the German tribes barbarians (Hinds 19).
Here are some further examples:

1. If the information is from a Book:
Include the author's last name, and the page number.
Example: Cave expert Ruth Radlauer says that troglophiles which live in Mammoth Cave include spiders, crickets, beetles and other insects (Radlauer 18).

2. If the information is from a Magazine Article:
a. Signed Articles: include the author's last name and the page number.
Example: According to Clark Kellogg, television coverage of sports has improved greatly (Kellogg 34).

b. Unsigned Articles: include magazine title and the page number.
Example: Sports Illustrated notes that television coverage of sports has improved in recent years (Sports Illustrated 34).

3. If the information is from a newspaper:
a. Signed Articles: include author's last name and the page number.
Example: Jesse Ventura does not appear to have a chance to win the nomination according to the (Smith New YorkTimes C3).

b. Unsigned Articles: include the title of the newspaper without any articles (New York Times not The New York Times) and the page number.
Example: Jesse Ventura does not appear to have a chance to win the nomination according to the New York Times (New York Times C3).

4. If the information is from an encyclopedia or a multiple volume set:
a. Signed Articles: include author's last name, volume number, followed by a colon, a space and the page number.
Example: In Kentucky caves there may be a build up of gypsum between the rock layers (Youngblood 4: 96)

b. Unsigned Articles: include the name of the article in quotes.
Example: Sunshine is important to the making of caves ("Mammoth Cave" 4:96).

5. If the information is from a web page or a database:
a. Signed Articles: include the author's last name. Complete website information will be given in your bibliography.
Example: Dr. Holsinger states that the Human Genome Initiative is a worldwide research effort that has the goal of analyzing the structure of human DNA (Holsinger).

b. Unsigned Articles: include the title of the page, within quotation marks.
Example: The Human Genome Initiative has several goals including the
analysis of the structure of human DNA ("Human Genome Initiative")

16. Glossary of Research Terms

  • Source:
Any resource from which you gather information.
Common SOURCES are books, magazines, newspapers, websites, interviews.
  • Citation / To Cite / Cited Material:
The form you use when you give credit to the author of actual words or original ideas from one of your SOURCES.
There are 3 types:
  • Documentation / To Document:
Giving credit to your sources.
  • In-text Citation:
Identifying the SOURCE, within the body of your paper.
  • Works Cited Page:
Page that lists all the SOURCES CITED in your paper. This page appears at the end of your paper and follows very specific guidelines.
  • Source Card:
A card which lists, in proper order and form, all the information about each SOURCE. This is necessary for completing the WORKS CITED PAGE. These cards must be numbered.
  • Note Card:
A card with a single note in QUOTATION, PARAPHRASE, or SUMMARY form, taken from one of your SOURCES.
This card contains the following:
NOTE itself
SOURCE NUMBER (which you assigned)
SPECIFIC CITED PAGE(s) where the note was found
SPECIFIC TOPIC of the note
  • Plagiarism:
Presenting the work and ideas of others as your own.

This information is a modified version of the Sayre Middle School Research Notebook created by Middle School teachers John Klus and Kristin Seymour and Librarian Judy Offutt. The introduction was written by Middle School teacher Brad Becker.
The examples in the notebook are based on those in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition. accessed 2/3/2011