How Do I Start My Research?

The steps below will help you complete your paper or assignment. If you get stuck, Ask A Librarian.

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Create a search strategy
  3. Find information
  4. Evaluate information
  5. Cite your sources
  6. Ask A Librarian


1. Choose a topic

Based on information you get from your class assignment or research project, you'll need to choose a topic. You can get ideas from:


  • If you are studying global warming, your topic might be how global warming affects fishing industries.
  • If you are studying elementary education, your topic might be how reading mentoring helps students in urban schools.


2. Create a search strategy

After a topic is chosen, you’ll need to form a search strategy. This step can help you effectively do your library research.

  1. Formulate a search question or thesis statement based on the topic you select.
  2. Identify the main ideas in the question or statement.
  3. Brainstorm alternative terms or synonyms for your main ideas.
  4. When searching, combine and use the best terms rather than typing in your original question or phrase.


You are required to write a paper on global warming and some aspect of agriculture or food production.

  1. Ask a question: “How does global warming affect the fishing industry in the United States?
  2. Identify the main ideas: global warming, fishing industry, and United States
  3. Brainstorm alternative terms:
    • Global warming or climate change, greenhouse effect, carbon emissions
    • Fishing industry or fishing, fisheries, oceans, marine biology, lobsters, salmon, food prices, etc.
    • United States or New England, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Florida, Alaska
  4. Combine the best terms to search: (global warming OR climate change) AND (fishing OR oceans) AND United States 

Specific kinds of information

Does your assignment call for a specific kind of information? Use our guides below to help you learn more and determine where to look.


3. Find information

The University Libraries provide a wide range of resources for your research.

Research Guides

Our Research Guides will help you find resources on your topic.


Find books and more in the Library Catalog (MERLIN)
Find books at other libraries like MOBIUS and Worldcat.


Example:  Enter your search terms like this:

Merlin search screen with search terms entered


Find journal, magazine and newspaper articles on your topic in our databases.  Find a database by subject or try one of our most popular databases:


Example:  Enter your search terms like this:

Database search screen with search terms entered

Hint  If you find an article, but there's no full text, click the Full text button or link.   

Hint  When you find a book or article you like, check its references to find more information on that topic.

NOTE:  If you're looking for a specific article, see our How Do I Find Articles & Journals page for help.


4. Evaluate information

After finding potential sources of information, you need to evaluate them to see if they are worthwhile for your research assignment. Consider the following:

  • Accuracy: Is the information correct? Can you verify the facts somewhere else? Does the source cite other sources that you can check? Is the information supported by enough evidence?
  • Authority: What are the credentials of the author, the publication? Are they an expert? Are they trustworthy?
  • Audience: For what audience is the source intended? Is it at the appropriate level? Is it an academic or popular source? Can you understand it?
  • Objectivity: Is the author impartial or is there evidence of bias? Does the author have a personal interest in the subject? Is the piece based on opinion or fact?
  • Currency: When was the source published? Is it up-to-date? Is it too old?

It's especially important to evaluate websites since anyone can publish information on the Web. Look for the following:

  • Does the web page indicate when it was last updated?
  • Do you know who wrote the page? Can you find any information out about this author?
  • Does the page come from a reliable source (i.e. a major news site, the government, etc.)?
  • Do the links on the page work or are they broken?
  • Is there an "about" page that gives information about the organization providing the information?
  • What is the domain of the URL? (.gov, .edu, .org, .com, etc.)

See our guide on Evaluating Web Resources for more information.


5. Cite your sources

In order to avoid plagiarism, you need to acknowledge use of another person’s work. This requires you to cite any sources you use in your assignment, paper, or project no matter what you use from that source: an original idea, a direct quote, research methods, or even innovative terminology.

Your professor will tell you which citation style to use, the most popular being American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Languages Association (MLA), and Chicago styles. Use the Library's style guides to help you format your works cited list. Always use the latest edition of a style manual.



APA Style (5th edition)

Munday, P., Jones, G., Pratchett, M., & Williams, A. (2008). Climate change and the future for coral reef fishes. Fish &
, 9(3), 261-285. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2979.2008.00281.x

Koslow, J. A. (2007). The silent deep : the discovery, ecology and conservation of the deep sea. Chicago: University
      of Chicago Press.

MLA Style (7th edition)

Munday, Philip L., et al. "Climate change and the future for coral reef fishes." Fish & Fisheries 9.3 (2008): 261-285.
       Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Apr 2009.

Koslow, J. Anthony. The silent deep : the discovery, ecology and conservation of the deep sea. Chicago: University of
      Chicago Press, 2007. Print.


Hint  The UMKC Writing Studio can help you once you get to the writing part of your assignment.


6. Ask A Librarian

Not sure where to start or stuck searching? Ask A Librarian at the First Floor Service Desk, (816) 235-1526.

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