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ENGL 1301 SO McGilbrey: Starting Your Research

This guide has been designed to assist you in the research for your ENGL 1301 assignments.

Rearch Tips

Once you have chosen your topic, the next step is to begin collecting information you can use to support your writing. Your instructor will tell you how many sources you are required to use for each essay. Here are a few steps you can take that will make this research process easier.

  • Know something about your topic. This sounds like a no-brainer but it will help in several ways - it can help you choose search terms (unique words for the topic) that can be used for searching, it will also help you evaluate the reliability of the information you find with your search.
  • Narrow down your topic. A broad topic is always more difficult to research than a specific one. A search like  "global warming" will get you thousands of search results, so you will spend a lot of time wading through those results to find what you need. A search like "global warming" and solutions will find fewer results and they will be more specific to your topic.
  • Investigate different resources. You will miss out on lots of information if you limit yourself to using resources you can find online - whether databases or internet. The older your topic is, the more useful you will find books for your research. Books are generally more thoroughly researched and will give you more in-depth information than articles found in databases.
  • Check your sources with your instructor. If you are not sure if the sources you are using are acceptable, contact your instructor during their office hours and ask that they take a look at what you have found thus far. If you are heading down the wrong road this can save you many hours of redoing your research!
  • Ask a Librarian! Each TCC Library has professional researchers (librarians) available in-person and online to help students with the research process. They can help you focus your research, sometimes suggest keywords to use for your topic, and guide you to the best resources available. To ask for help online, send an email to:

The Internet is good for a lot of searches and source types.  For example, if you need very current information or news and commentary, Web searching is a good strategy.

Databases are special -- they are collections of information (usually articles from magazines and scholarly sources) made available to subscribers.  Databases are very valuable because they contain and maintain specific collections, and are relatively easy to search.  We use the Web to access Database collections, but articles accessed are not considered "online" or "web" sources in the same way that a Wikipedia entry is.

How to Distinguish Scholarly Journals from Popular Magazines

Scholarly journals differ from popular magazines in a number of important ways. 

Clues that will help you identify scholarly journals:

·      Usually contain an abstract, or summary, before the main text of the article.

·      Contain reports of research results.

·      Always cite their sources with footnotes and/or bibliographies.

·      Have serious formats rather than the glossy, slick formats found in popular magazines.

·      Contain graphs or charts detailing the research described by the article.

·      Are written by scholars or researchers. The authors’ affiliations will be listed on the first page or at the end of the article.

·      Are usually published by a professional organization.

·      Assume some technical background on the part of the reader—the language used is discipline-specific.

Scholarly Journals--Example Titles

The Journal of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

New England Journal of Medicine

James Joyce Quarterly

Journal of the American Medical Association

Journal of Theoretical Biology

Journal of Marriage and the Family

Hemingway Review

Studies in the Novel


American Literature

Advances in Structural Engineering

Civil Engineering

Journal for Juvenile Justice Services

Journal for the History of Astronomy

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals 

This video from the Peabody Library at Vanderbilt University explains the difference between scholarly and popular periodicals.

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Two types of research:

Primary research is the kind that you conduct yourself.  It includes things like observations and demonstrations, inspections, experiments, interviews and field research, which all require your presence.  You must conduct the research for acquiring new information by engaging with the subject, gathering the data and analyzing it yourself

Secondary research is the kind that you do in order to find information that links your subject with research already done by someone else. 

Confused about Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals?

For some assignments your instructor may ask you to locate scholarly, or peer-reviewed articles. Not sure what peer-review is all about? Check out the tutorial, "Peer Review in 3 Minutes" from North Carolina State University.  If you still have questions, ask a librarian at any of your TCC campus libraries - you can contact us in person, as well as by phone, email or chat!

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Emma and Len from Ohlone College examine the differences between scholarly and popular sources as they prepare for a psychology class assignment...

Suggested Topics

Most instructors have some topics that they will not allow you to research for your papers, therefore you will not find abortion, gun control, animal experimentation, and capital punishment on this list of topics. Please check with your instructor to make sure that your chosen topic is suitable for your persuasive paper.