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Eight Steps to Research Success: Get Started!

Got Research? Here are 8 Steps to Success!

Got Research?

1. Choose a Topic

Browse some topic lists:

  • 301 Prompts For Argumentative Writing: An extensive PDF list of topics divided into subject areas from the New York Times Learning Network.
  • ProCon: Non-profit and non-partisan information organization that presents a list of controversial topics divided into subject areas.

Find articles in the Library's databases:

Search the Library's online databases to find a wide range of possible topics.  Search the following databases to find a topic about a current issue:


From Oakton's catalog:

The following book has information on how to pick a topic and refine it:

2. Get Background Information

Read articles in these online encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Take note of relevant items in the bibliographies or "for further reading" sections at the end of the encyclopedia articles.

The following OCC databases address current issues:

The following websites may assist you in finding background information on a topic:

    Premier web encyclopedia available for Oakton users.
    Award-winning web site that provides thousands of articles on how things work "from the inside out."
    This website provides an online dictionary, atlas, almanac and internet encyclopedia.
  • Public Agenda Online
    This is a website created by a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research & citizen education organization based in New York City.
  • ShareAmerica
    The U. S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs works with U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.

Ask a reference librarian to recommend online and print subject specific encyclopedias in the Oakton Library.

News articles in a newspaper or general magazine can also give you a starting point for your research. Use an online periodical database such as Academic Search Complete to locate background information in full text magazine and journal articles.

Searching for books in the Library's Catalog

I-Share logo

Search over 100,000 books in the Library's Catalog and books from 127 Illinois college and university libraries in the I-Share Catalog.

4. Find Journal, Newspaper, and Magazine Articles

The Library has over 67,000 online magazines, journals, and newspapers in its Article Databases.  

Get Started with Academic Search Complete

Additional Tips

Look at the "help screen" links that can usually be found on the top or side of the screen. Information in these "help screens" can save you time and offer ideas on how to search more effectively and efficiently. 

Use your Oakton username and password to access the Library databases from an off-campus computer.

5. Search the Web

Determine if your instructor will allow you to include Internet resources in your research.

Unlike scholarly print periodicals and books, where the information is subjected to a process of review, anyone can publish on the web. Many web sites are also designed for commercial purposes and, consequently, are designed to influence! 

Evaluate web sites by determining their authority, relevance, and currency:

Recommended search engines:

    Metasearch engine that provides anonymous and untracked searching as well as combines results from multiple search engines simultaneously.
  • DuckDuckGo
    Search results that emphasize human generated fact nuggets and aggregated quality web sites related to the search topic; provides anonymous and untracked searching with no auto-completion or advertising.
  • Google
    Provides full text of web pages and other files on the web, images, sound files, maps, map making, and machine translation; results prioritized by sites most used and shared.
  • Google Scholar
    Search peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts, and articles from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities, and other scholarly organizations.
  • Dogpile
    Metasearch engine that gathers results from several other popular search engines, including those from audio and video content providers.
  • Bing
    Provides web pages, especially those related to news and scientific content; lookup; videos, images, and maps; events in the user’s preset geographic area; and social searching that can access the photos and pages of the searcher’s social media connections.
  • Internet Archive
    Use the Wayback Machine to search the history of over 387 billion web pages. This is a non-profit library that provides access to millions of free books, movies, software, music, and archived websites.

Recommended sites for Images:

  • Google Images
    Keyword search for images linked by text and file name.
  • Featured Digital Libraries on Pinterest
    Collection of the Digital Libraries of the Week featured in American Libraries Direct.
  • Flickr
    Photo management and sharing site which allows users to search images by keyword.
  • Pixabay
    User-contributed downloadable photos and illustrations.

6. Evaluate Information

Web Sites:

Evaluate web sites by determining their authority, relevance and currency:  Evaluating Web Pages: Questions to Consider (Cornell University).


Do you need to use popular magazines and/or scholarly periodicals? They each serve different purposes and are written for specific audiences.


Evaluate books by using book reviews to gather critical and other valuable information and the Evaluating Your Sources from the University of North Carolina Library.

7. Cite What You Find

Cite It Right!

Do you need an introduction to citations?  If so, start with the Library's Cite It Right! guide. 

Online Guides and Samples for Citations:

Is it Plagiarism?

Need to understand plagiarism?  If so, start here.  Find out why plagiarism matters in the Code of Student Conduct and the Code of Academic Conduct, too.

Books about Citations

MLA, APA and Chicago Style manuals are available in the Library at the Reference Desk on each campus.


NoodleTools is a full featured citation and research tool that will help you format and save your citations online.  It can help you through the citation process step by step.  It can also help you create and manage an outline and/or notecards for your paper, and can help you share your sources with other users.

NOTE: If you are a new user, you must register using this NoodleTools link. More information is available on the Library's Cite It Right!: NoodleTools (citation manager) page.

8. Put It All Together

How to Write Your Paper

Congratulations! You're now ready to put all the pieces together.  Just as the Library helped you find, evaluate and use information effectively and efficiently, the Library can recommend resources to you that will help you in the final states of your work.


The following websites provide great tips about writing a paper:

The Learning Center

The Learning Center supports all students through a variety of services including tutoring, study strategies and techniques, and workshops that enhance classroom learning.

More suggestions about your research!

Don't forget to look at our research guides for more suggestions about your research!  Select a subject from the drop-down menu below to get started.

Get help from Oakton's Librarians!

Email us

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