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Research Basics Tutorial

Welcome to the Research Basics Library Tutorial. This self-paced tutorial will help you learn how to navigate the NSU Libraries' resources in preparation for your research assignment. Successful library research depends upon:

  • Understanding the differences between types of information.
  • Knowing how to evaluate information.
  • Knowing efficient ways to retrieve information.

This tutorial will teach you the fundamental concepts of information literacy which will serve you throughout your academic career, and on into lifelong learning. This tutorial covers:

  • Choosing a topic
  • Gathering background information
  • Finding books: NovaCat and other online library catalogs
  • Finding journal and newspaper articles: NSU electronic resources (databases)
  • Using the Web to find Internet resources
  • Evaluating what you find

At each step, you will be required to utilize a resource and answer questions. If you have questions about the terminology in this exercise, consult this Glossary of Library and Internet Terms.

Before you begin, be aware of the following:

  • Be ready to note the information you find in each Activity. You will need this information to fill in the blanks of the tutorial.
  • When you click on a link in this tutorial, it will open into a new window. To return to the tutorial at any point, close the new window by clicking on the "X" in the top right corner of your screen.
  • Fill in every box, even if you are unsure of your answer.
  • Though you may take as long as you wish to complete the activities, you will need to fill in the blanks for all the activities and submit the form at one sitting.

Some links on this page require the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view. Visit the Adobe Web site to download the Reader for free.

Your name: 
Your email address: 


Choosing a Topic

Picking a topic is the most important decision you will make about your project. You may be assigned a topic, or you may be allowed to choose your own. In either case, use the tips below to help define your project and decide your focus.

What is your topic? 


How to Select a Topic

  • Choose something that interests you.
  • Identify the main concepts of your topic. Generate a list of key search terms for each concept.
  • Choose a focus that fits the course. Is it too narrow or too broad?
  • Keep in mind the size of the project. Is it a five-page or a twenty-page paper?
  • Consult with your instructor. Do not try to guess at the instructor's expectations.
  • Ask a reference librarian for help.

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Gathering Background Information

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, guides, and handbooks can all provide an introduction and overview, define the terminology, and supply basic factual information such as names, dates, places, and issues. Look for a bibliography at the end of the article, entry, or chapter. This bibliography is a useful starting point for further research.

The Sherman Library's Electronic Resources has a selection of online databases to choose from. Click on the links below to begin your research.

IMPORTANT NOTE: To access the Electronic Resources, you must enter your last name (all lower case) and your University ID number. (About the NSU ID number...)
If you encounter problems logging in, see How to Access Databases.

Encyclopedia Americana:
Features Encyclopedia Americana Online, Americana Journal, and Wall Street Journal Almanac. Documents are hyperlinked to related articles and Grolier's Internet index of related Web sites.
To locate: Go to the Databases page » select your patron type » log in » click on "SHOW ALL DATABASES" link.

World Book Online:
Full text of the World Book Encyclopedia (Americas and International Editions), Dictionary, and Atlas. Includes text entries, as well as maps, tables, sound clips, images, videos, and special reports. Special sections include teacher, parent, and student resources.
To locate: Go to the Databases page » select your patron type » log in » click on "SHOW ALL DATABASES" link.

World Almanacs:
Includes the contents of: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, The World Almanac of the USA, The World Almanac of US Politics, and The World Almanac for Kids.
To locate: Go to the Databases page » select your patron type » log in » click on "SHOW ALL DATABASES" link.

Activity #1

Fill in the blanks below:

Database or print resource used:  
Title of entry/article: 
Author of entry/article: 
Is there a bibliography?  yes  no 
If yes, provide a citation from the bibliography:
(You may copy and paste if from online resource)

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Finding Books

Use NovaCat, the NSU Libraries' online catalog, to find a book on your topic in the main library's collection. Search NovaCat, the online catalog, right now.

Tip   How to Find Books:
  • Use the NovaCat's "Keyword Search" to find books on your topic. You may combine terms using the word "and" (for example, coleridge and poetry). To broaden your search, reduce the number of keywords. To narrow your search, add more keywords.
  • Remember that NovaCat contains materials in many formats besides books, such as audiovisual materials, journals, and magazines. Pay attention to the "Medium" column in the results screen, which will provide a graphical image of a book if the item in the record is a book. Also, read the record carefully!
  • Read this helpful page with additional information for locating books.

Activity #2

Fill in the blanks below using the information from the NovaCat record:

Title of the book:
Place of publication:
Date of publication:
Call number:
Is there a bibliography? yes  no

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Finding Journal and Newspaper Articles

To find articles on a topic, use an index. Indexes provide citations (the information needed to locate a particular article) to articles from a variety of journal and newspaper titles. Some indexes contain the full-text of the article as well. Online indexes in the NSU Electronic Resources are called Databases.

To access the databases, proceed to the Electronic Resources and look for the heading that reads "Databases." Once you select your patron type and log in, you will be offered several choices, including a listing of databases by subject and a listing of databases in alphabetical order.

Tip   How to Find Journal and Newspaper Articles:

  • Start with a general interest database, such as Research Library or Reader's Guide Full Text.
  • A subject search is usually more focused than a keyword or text search. Start with a keyword search (in Proquest, "Citation and article text"; in Reader's Guide, "Keyword"), then try using the subjects assigned to the records you retrieve to focus your search.
  • If you find one article that focuses well on your topic, check out the references (if it is an academic or scholarly article) cited by the author at the end of the article. The referenced articles are usually a great resource for further research and study.
  • To find other databases for your topic, consult the "Databases by subject" pull-down menu.
  • Is your article from a scholarly journal or a popular magazine? Try our help sheet on Distinguishing Sources.
  • If the full text of your article is available in the database you are searching in, a link will allow you to print or download the full text. If not, you can search across all databases using the Journal Finder. Simply type into the search box provided the title of the journal, newspaper, or magazine. If the title is available full text in any of NSU's databases, a link to that database will appear on the page. Click on the link to proceed to the full-text database, then type in the information in your citation in the search boxes provided.
  • If you live near the main campus in Fort Lauderdale, you may do a "Title" search in NovaCat to see whether the NSU Libraries own a print version of the journal, newspaper, or magazine.
  • If an article you need is not available full text online nor in the NovaCat, the article can be ordered through the Document Delivery and Interlibrary Loan Department.

Activity #3

Fill in the blanks below:

Database used:
Title of journal or newspaper:
Title of article:
Author of article:

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Using the Web to Find Internet Resources

The World Wide Web is a useful medium for finding information on your topic. As a starting point, check out the Quick e-Reference Sources, which provide links to free reference sources on the Web.

Evaluating information found on the Internet is especially important. Web sites are easily mounted (sometimes by "self-proclaimed" experts) and are not necessarily more valuable or reliable than information from a printed source. Check out the evaluation criteria put together by the librarians at New Mexico State University, which clearly illustrates why you must always read what is published on the Web with a critical eye.

Activity #4

Fill in the blanks below:

Name of Web site visited:
Web Address (URL):
What you learned at the site:

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You have successfully completed the Research Basics Library Tutorial.

Click on the Submit Form button below. Once you submit the form, you may save your results to a diskette or to your hard drive by selecting "File" and "Save As" from your browser's menu bar (top left), or click on "Print" to print. A confirmation email will also be sent to the email address you provided above.


This page was adapted with permission from University of Connecticut Libraries' "Library Quest."

The ASLRITC is a joint-use facility between Nova Southeastern University and the Broward Cty. Board of County Commissioners

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Last updated: October 21, 2009