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ENG 102 - Library Research  

Last Updated: Aug 29, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Starting Research Print Page

Starting Research: Get the Big Picture

Once you have a basic idea of what your topic is, you'll need to get an idea of the big picture. What are the major issues involved in your topic? What are the terms associated with it?

Reference sources are a great way to begin your search. They'll show you which sources experts recommend and give you ideas for specific areas of the topic you may want to research. These are often broad and general, so it's best to start here and narrow your topic down as you progress.


Narrowing the Topic

Based on your findings in books and reference sources, you'll want to narrow down your topic so that you can focus on a few main points. A few ways to do this are:

-Look at the terms used by authors of general works

-Look for the main concepts or issues mentioned in general sources

-Look at citations in general sources (the bibliography at the end of a reference article) or for mentions of experts in the field


Searching using your Keyword Bank

Research is like a treasure hunt or solving a mystery.

We have to try to combine the right terms in the right place to find the information we need.

How should you combine search terms to find what you are looking for?

Broad Search

Search for information using the single most important term related to your topic. Use this type of search when looking for basic background information.

Specific Search

Search for information by combining key concepts using the words you have brainstormed. Each concept/word should be separated by the word "AND". Use this kind of search when looking for specific evidence related to your claim/thesis.

Getting Too Many Irrelevant Results?

Add more search terms for narrower results.

Getting Too Few Relevant Results?

Change, switch out, or remove some search terms for more accurate or broader results.

Research Help @ the Pratt Libraries

Bookplate of Winward Prescott via Pratt's Flickr

Bookplate of Winward Prescott, via Pratt Institute Library's Flickr collection of book plates (click image to further explore)


To help you develop your research skills, this guide offers a collection of research strategies and resources that are helpful for Freshman English students. Learn how to use the online catalog, PrattCat, to find a book; search for articles in online databases; avoid plagiarism by citing sources in footnotes and bibliographies; and more! 


    Brainstorming Search Terms

    When doing research on a literary topic, the best way to begin is by brainstorming keywords and concepts related to your topic.

    Consider the following:

    -Writer's Name - both his/her formal name and/or any nicknames or alternate name spellings.

    -Title of Work - both the offical name and any alternate titles or spellings (including those of other languages).

    -Literary Genre - examples include memoir, novel, poetry, short story, etc.

    -Geography / Ethnicity - important for literature from a particular place/region (Mexico, Asian) or by a particular ethnic group (Chicano, Japanese).

    -Date - examples include a specific year, decade or century (19th Century, 21st Century).

    -Period / Style - this category can also be tied to literature of a particular time period. Examples include: magical realism, post-modern, Romanticism, etc.


    Brainstorm Keywords


    Building a bank of keywords will make the rest of your research much simpler.

    1. Gather background information, which will give you some key words to start with, and make your research a little easier.

    2. Brainstorm other search terms: think of synonyms, or more technical terms, or official language vs. colloquial language

    3. Think of some narrower search terms to get even more specific and some broader words in case you aren't finding much.

    4. Think about what ideas and terms are related to your subject that might also be helpful.


    Even when you've got a good keyword bank started, keep adding to it!

    If you find a good article or book, look at the data record to see what other terms and subjects are used to describe it.

    Remember that with library resources especially, it pays to search smart:

    use AND in between search terms to group them together

    use OR for more results

    use NOT if you want to exempt a word from your results

    use quotation marks "_" to isolate phrases

    use the wildcard * to get all versions of a word


    Evaluating Sources

    The  CRAP Test


    • How recent is the information?
    • Can you locate a date for when the resource was written/created/updated?
    • Based on your topic, is it current enough?
    • Why might the date matter for your topic?



    • What kind of information is included in the resource?
    • Is content of the resource primarily opinion? 
    • Is is balanced or biased?
    • Is there a Bibliography? In other words, does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations? 



    • Can you determine who is the creator or author?
    • What are the credentials (education, affiliation, expertise?)
    • Is the publisher or sponsor reputable?
    • Are they reputable?
    • What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
    • Are there advertisements on the website?


    Purpose/Point of View 

    • What's the intent of the article? (to persuade you, to sell you something?)
    • For web resources, what is the domain? (.com .edu, .gov?) How might this influence the purpose or point of view?
    • For web resources, are there ads on the webpage? How do they related to the topic of the web resource? (for example an ad for ammunition next to an article on firearm legislation or against gun control)
    • Is the author presenting fact or opinion?


    Adapted from Dominican University

    Get Research Help

    Librarians at Pratt want to help you with your research :)  Here's how to contact us: 

    • Chat-w/-A-Librarian
      Chat online with a librarian (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).
    • Ask-A-Librarian
      Call, email, or visit our Reference Desk :)

      Brooklyn: (718) 636-3704

      Manhattan: (212) 647-7539


      Location: The Reference Desk is on the 1st Floor of the Brooklyn Library.

    Library Terms

    Catalog - A database of books, magazines, and other items at a library. Our catalog is called PrattCat.

    Circulation Desk - This is also on the main floor, right by the entrance. This is where you can borrow materials.

    E-Journal An electronic version of a print journal

    Interlibrary Loan - Ordering an item from another library. Pratt will order the item and you can borrow it from us.

    Library Database - A collection of electronic books and periodicals. It's like browsing the bookshelves electronically.

    Periodical - A magazine, journal, newspaper, or other publication that comes out periodically

    Reference Book or Reference Source - A large collection of general information like Wikipedia (not to be used for this assignment or most college-level research), Encyclopedia Britannica or Oxford Art Online.

    Reference Desk - This is on the main floor. It's where librarians are available to help you with research and finding materials.

    Get Writing Help

    Pratt's Writing and Tutorial Center (WTC) wants to help you become a better research paper writer. Walk-in or make an appointment to get help.

    Conversation groups are also avaible for international students!

    Contact the WTC

    -Location: North Hall on the 1st floor

    -Phone (718) 636-3459



    -Monday to Thursday, 10am-8pm

    -Friday 10am-5pm


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