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5 Steps to Better Library Research

5 Steps to Better Library Research

1. Get Started

Start by choosing a broad topic.

2. Gather Background Information

Before you begin your research, get background information on your topic.  This will save you time and prevent frustration!

Start by looking in:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Class textbooks

Note: These resources can often provide you with a list of books and articles on your topic.

3. Narrow your topic

When writing a term paper, it is critical to choose a topic that is not too broad.  Narrow the focus of your topic.


  • Time
  • Place
  • Person or Group
  • Aspect

Note: Choose at least three limiters using the above examples, or come up with your own.

4. Form a Search Question

Now that you have your topic narrowed, it is useful to phrase it in the form of a question.

This helps you to:

  • Keep your research focused
  • Choose resources that provide answers
  • Develop a thesis statement

5. Create a Search Term List

The last step is to create a list of search terms to use when searching for books and articles in the UM LIBRARIES CATALOG and databases.

  1. Identify the key terms and concepts in your research question.
  2. Choose related terms for your key concepts.

Example Topic:



1. Topic: Immigration
2. Gather Background Information  
3. Limiters:  
Time Current, 1980
Place United States
Person/Group Immigrants
Aspect Higher Education
4. Search Question: How has higher education contributed to the success of immigrants in the United States?
5. Search Term List:  
Key Concepts Related Terms
Higher Education college, university
Success status, wealth
Immigrants migrants, aliens, Chicanos, Cubans




Adapted from UC Davis Library

Last modified: December 20, 2010