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College Writing

Use this guide to improve your writing skills. Find help for selecting topics, searching for and documenting evidence, writing essays, and more. You may also find this guide helpful for crafting speeches. 

Research Mindset

Develop a research mindset. Understand research as a process of asking questions and exploring. 

The quality of your research depends largely on the questions you ask. Practice asking a lot of them. Adopt the mindset of an explorer or investigator. What qualities and characteristics do successful explorers and investigators have?  Develop a plan; where will you start?  As you begin to explore, you will discover that research can be messy. Expect and welcome twists and turns, keep an open mind, and keep asking questions throughout the process. Use many different kinds of search tools and resources, and conduct many different kinds of searches. 

Think like a researcher: Keep an open mind, be curious, be persistent, patient, maintain high standards, be flexible, and explore

Research takes time and patience; it can also be fun and has value.

Developing your research skills will enable you to identify a problem, collect informational resources that can help address the problem, evaluate these resources for quality and relevance, and come up with an effective solution to a problem. Research skills develop critical thinking and equip you to write better research papers and craft better speeches. You will also improve problem solving skills required to tackle issues in your personal life and in the workplace. 

Steps in Research

Follow these steps.

Keep an open mind. You may need to refine your topic, ask new questions, and repeat steps as you go along.

  1. Identify and define your topic. Put your research topic into a question such as, "What is the debate surrounding vaccination refusal?" Now you can identify the main concepts and keywords, including alternate terms, for your topic.

  2. Background reading will deepen your understanding and vocabulary around the topic, which will help you identify search terms and develop an effective research question. Subject encyclopedias (in print or in Credo Reference) are excellent resources. 

  3. Use Search It! or the library classic catalog to find books

  4. Use Search It! or individual databases to find articles from magazines, journals and newspapers. Choose appropriate databases for your topic.

  5. Search for credible website resources. Try the librarian-recommended websites on this guide.

  6. Always evaluate what you find. Consider timeliness, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose.

  7. Cite your sources. Citing gives proper credit to the authors of materials you use and allows your professors to verify your conclusions. 

research shown as a squiggly path, not a straight line

Evaluate Information

Evaluating the information you find, whether in print or digital format, is an essential aspect of doing research.

Learn to think critically about the source of information and the information within each source by using the Evaluate Your Sources guide. 

Keyword & Subject Searching

Keyword Searching

Keyword searching is used by internet search engines, databases, and the library catalog. Keep in mind that the search will find matches for specific words, not concepts. The default in the library catalog (and most databases) is find results that include every word in your search. Think of this as using AND between the words. Actually typing the command AND to combine terms is good practice. 

  • income AND equality AND United States
  • student debt AND impact AND economy
  • minimum wage AND debate

The two searches above are the same, and will find all books in the library catalog that have all four words in the description of the book. 

If you want to find a specific phrase, with the words next to each other in order, use double quotation marks around the phrase:

  • "climate change"  
  • "racial profiling"

You might want to broaden your search to include synonyms or other related words. To find either of two words or phrases, use OR between them:

  • (argument OR debate) AND "minimum wage" 

You can also use truncation to search for different forms of a word. The asterisk * is used in the library catalog and many databases for this. 

  • discriminat* AND (wages OR income OR pay)

For example, in the above search, discriminat* will find the words discriminate, discrimination, discriminated,  etc.

When combining searches, use parentheses ( ) around different parts of the search, as in the example above that groups synonyms. 

Subject Heading Searching

Think of subject headings as labels or tags that someone has used to identify the subject of a book or article. The subject headings are standardized so that only one term is used for a specific subject. Sometimes these subject headings are not the obvious word for the topic. In the library catalog, Cultural Pluralism is used to mean diversity of cultures within a country or place. You can search directly by subject heading, or click on a subject heading in the description of a book you find by keyword searching. Sometimes this gets you a list of subject headings to choose from before you see a list of search results. Here are a few examples from the Classic Catalog:

Subject Headings related to the writing process:

Subject Headings related to finding information on controversial topics:

"Literature Search" Poster

St. Louis Community College Libraries

Florissant Valley Campus Library
3400 Pershall Rd.
Ferguson, MO 63135-1408
Phone: 314-513-4514

Forest Park Campus Library
5600 Oakland
St. Louis, MO 63110-1316
Phone: 314-644-9210

Meramec Campus Library
11333 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122-5720
Phone: 314-984-7797

Wildwood Campus Library
2645 Generations Drive
Wildwood, MO 63040-1168
Phone: 636-422-2000