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Learning Disabilities & Education: Getting Started with Research

This LibGuide was created to assist students in researching Education and Learning Disabilities

Getting Started with Research

Research is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions." Throughout college you will be required to do research and write papers for most of your classes providing you with an opportunity to learn a valuable set of skills. The ability to locate, evaluate and reinterpret information, which is the essence of research, is a life skill and large part of what your college experience is about.

There are several steps and hints that can make the research process more manageable.  This guide is designed to help you in your quest to find the right sources. Our goal at USC Upstate it to help make people Information Literate, that is people who can use the library and do research effectively. As with most things the more you practice the better you get, research is a skill that must be practiced and developed. 

 "Research." Research: Definition of Research in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US). Oxford University Press. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. 

Make sure to write down all of the bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) or enter the information into your computer or a citation management software so you can find it later. REMEMBER that any source without bibliographical information is useless - if you can't cite the source you can't use the source.

1. Identifying and developing a topic.

  • Read your assignment and find the key elements and requirements for your assignment.  Make sure to know the approved topics and no-no subjects. If you have questions ASK your professor!
  • Choose a topic that you are interested in.  Your attitude towards the topic will show in the amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into your research and final paper.
  • Select a subject you can manage.  Be careful of subjects that are too technical, very broad or extremely focused or narrow.
  • Turn your topic into a question.  Ask yourself  “What do I want to know?”.
    • For example, if you want to know more about how women and men communicate with each other you might ask "What are the communication differences between men and women?"
  • When the topic is selected, find the “key words” in the question and write them down. Then brainstorm all the possible words related to your topic (Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find additional keywords, synonyms and related words. Also think about the singular, plural, and other endings of words.)

What are the communication differences between men and women?



men (man)

women (woman)









2. Finding supporting & background information using reference materials.

  • Use encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference materials to find background information.  Look for timelines, history, key figures and other supporting elements in your topic.
  • If you topic is very broad you may use this information to help you focus your topic. Ask yourself the 5 W questions to help you think about your topic.
    • For example to focus the topic of Obesity ask yourself:
      • Who? children, adults, ethnic groups
      • What? prevention, nutrition, insurance
      • Where? United States, South Carolina, urban areas
      • When? current, historic
      • Why? health aspects, social aspects

Try some of our online Reference Materials

Learn about Specialized Reference Sources

3. Finding books using the library catalog.

  • Use keyword searching for a narrow or complex search topic or to learn the Library of Congress Subjects.
  • Use subject searching to narrow down a broad subject.  Look at the root Library of Congress Subject (Obesity) then look at the subdivisions listed after that topic (Obesity – Prevention).
Obesity -- Health aspects -- South Carolina -- Columbia   
Obesity -- Nutritional aspects.  
Obesity -- Prevention -- United States.  
Obesity -- Psychological aspects.
Obesity in children.
Obesity in children -- Prevention.
Obesity in children -- Psychological aspects.
Obesity in children -- United States.
Obesity in women -- Psychological aspects.
  • When you find a book make sure to:
  1. Note the Title of the book
  2. Note the Call number of the book
  3. Note the Circulation Status
  4. Look at the LC Subjects listed with that book
  • After pulling the book from the shelf, use the index and table of contents to locate specific pages of useful information

Table of Contents and Index definition and example

4. Using Article Databases to finding articles.

  • First start with General Subject Databases such as Academic Search Complete
    • try some key word searches (remember the list from step 1?)
    • find some subject words related to your topic
  • You may want to try other databases depending on the depth and level of research.
  • If the full text is not available, check Full Text Finder to see if the title is available in print format in the library or from another database. You can also Ask-A-Librarian for help finding full text for articles
  • If your article is not available in full text then use the Interlibrary Loan service. 

IF your assignment requires that you only use scholarly or peer reviewed articles, save yourself some time by checking any boxes that allow you to limit your search to these types of articles.

Examples of Subject Terms from an article about obesity in school children

Subject Terms:





*OBESITY in children -- Prevention
*ACADEMIC medical centers
*HEALTH education
*MEDICAL cooperation
*MEDICAL screening
*OBESITY in children
*SCHOOL administration
*BODY mass index

5. Internet Resources

 Often, starting your research journey with a few Google searches can help you find some basic background information as well as focus your topic.  REMEMBER not all professors want you to USE that research in your paper so make sure to check your assignment.  If you can use web resources, then cautiously search online for reputable and reliable web sources. The trouble with the Internet is that there is very little control of the content available.  Basically anyone can make a website and upload information that may not be accurate or even true.  

Make sure to evaluate your resource using either the S.T.A.A.R. or ABC methods and only rely on quality resources. The video below uses the C.R.A.A.P. method to evaluate sources.  This is a valid method but I don't want to encourage you to find C.R.A.A.P. I think you should find a S.T.A.A.R.

6. Assembling Research

In your paper/research project you will use sources such as books, articles, government documents, web pages, or other types of sources to gain knowledge of your topic and support the statements you make.  You will need to use that information ethically and give credit where credit is due.  When you find information from a source, you should rephrase it into your own words and only use exact quotations when a phrase is unique.  You should keep a record of all the information you will need from each source for your bibliography. Even if you are unsure whether you will use a resource you should keep the information for the citation, just in case.  Citations are designed to show others your research path and gives credit to other people’s work and ideas.  

Using someone else’s work from Ethical Use of Information Research Guide

Any time someone else's work is used, it is ethical to give credit to the original creator.  This takes the form of a citation which indicates who the original creator is and where the item was found.

When using someone else's work in your own without giving credit, you are essentially indicating that you created it.  This is called plagiarism.

Plagiarism Quick-Guide

Terms to Know

Plagiarism:   Using other people’s words and ideas without clearly acknowledging the source of the information

Common Knowledge:   Facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be widely known.
Example:   John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960.  
This is generally known information- You do not need to document this fact

Interpretation:  You must document facts that are not generally known, or ideas that interpret facts.  
Example: Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever to have played the game.  This idea is not a fact but an interpretation- You need to cite the source

Quotation:  Using someone’s words directly.  When you use a quote, place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and document the source according to a standard documenting style.
Example:  According to John Smith in The New York Times, “37% of all children under the age of 10 live below the poverty line”.

Paraphrase:  Using someone’s ideas, but putting them in your own words.  Although you will use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge the source of the information

Strategies for Avoiding Plagiarism 

  1. Submit your own work
  2. Put quotations around everything that comes directly from the text, especially when taking notes.
  3. Paraphrase, but be sure that you are not simply rearranging or replacing a few words
  4. Keep a source journal, notepad, note cards- annotated bibliographies can be especially beneficial
  5. Use the style manual assigned for the class
  6. Get help from the writing center or library

"Ethical Use of Information." Research Guide. Ed. Margaret Driscoll. John Spoor Broome Library, 7 July 2015. Web 27 Oct. 2015.

Plagiarism Prevention Header as link to guideUSC Upstate has an entire LibGuide to help you recognize plagiarism and how to avoid it.

7. Synthesis of Information – Pulling it all together

Research and sources alone do not make for an effective paper.  Facts are just facts. You will want to combine your ideas and research to see how they relate to one another and how they form a new idea or point.  Your paper should take the details, information, ideas, and explanations from all of your resources and they should be combined, integrated and mixed with your own thoughts and conclusions about the question you have researched to create a cohesive paper.  Keeping your research question in mind, your paper should form a unified whole that conveys your perspective and the evidence from your research that logically supports it.

Once you decide what information to use, you will need to work that information into your paper.  There are 3 general ways to do this:

  • Quotation (Be careful not to over use quotations.  Save them for unique information or if you want to make a point by stating words from an expert.)
  • Summary (After reading the information offer an abridged version of the concept, that is keep the key concepts and main ideas but keep in the original “voice”)
  • Paraphrase (Paraphrase literally means to tell in other words so you will offer the concepts and ideas in your own voice)
    • The difference between paraphrasing and summarizing is basically the objective. Summarizing is to make shorter where paraphrasing is turning the information into something different from the original
    • No matter how you use the information make sure you use proper citation styles to give credit to the original information.

8. Choosing the Appropriate Citation style or Reference System

There are many different citation styles that each address the needs of distinctive disciplines. Each of these styles require the same basic information but the order, syntax, and style of that information varies. Different styles emphasize different elements of a source showing priorities and readability of key information. There are also two major divisions within most citation styles: documentary-note style and parenthetical style. Documentary-note style offers footnotes or endnotes to the information where parenthetical style or “in-text” is where references to sources are made in the body of the work itself, through parentheses.

Seldom will you be the one choosing the reference system you use in your research paper – almost always, your professor will let you know what is. The three most-used reference systems are:

  •   APA (American Psychological Association) is used by Education, Psychology, and Sciences
  •   MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used by the Humanities, and English
  •   Chicago / Turabian style is generally used by Business, History, and the Fine Arts

The reference system you must use will control three very important parts of your paper:

  1. The physical appearance and general set up of your paper (margins, title page, line spacing etc.)
  2. The way in which you insert your research findings into your paper (footnotes, in-text citation, etc.)
  3. The list of your sources used in your paper (Works Cited – MLA, References – APA, or Bibliography - Chicago/Turabian) 
ResearchDefinition by LKaras Work

Boolean Searching

Boolean Searching using AND, OR & NOT for better s

For more help using Boolean Searching See the LibGuide Boolean Searching

3 types of searches by LKaras Work