Mercer University
Jack Tarver Library
Library Research Instruction


Research takes TIME—don't expect to be able to do all your research in one day. Start early

Try to think of research as a TREASURE HUNT—you will run into pitfalls and frustrations but will also have unexpected pleasant surprises.

Be prepared to EXPAND OR NARROW THE FOCUS of your topic.

Always be on the lockout for CLUES in your search.

Check any source you use for bibliographies, key terms, or the name of a person who is an authority on your subject.

Every time you find a useful source, write down THE FULL CITATION using the style preferred by your teacher (MLA, APA, Turabian).

Check the AUTHORITY of your sources, especially if your topic is controversial—Who is the author and is (s)he an expert in the field? What are the author's credentials? Who published the source? Does the author/publisher have a vested interest or an axe to grind? Include all sides of an issue in your paper if your subject is controversial.


Select a GENERAL IDEA for your paper. For a current interest paper read newspapers and magazines. To select an open topic try CQ Researcher, shelved at the reference desk and on the Encyclopedia shelves.

BEGIN your research by looking for BACKGROUND/OVERVIEW information. A good place to start is the ONLINE CATALOG which will lead to BOOKS on your subject. It may be necessary to use the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS, to select a broader, narrower or related term.

REFERENCE BOOKS are helpful in locating overviews and other information—they can be found by looking in the catalog under a general subject term or by asking a Reference Librarian.

PERIODICALS (newspapers, magazines, and journals) are a great source of current information.
Note this DISTINCTION BETWEEN MAGAZINES AND SCHOLARLY JOURNALS: magazines are generally written by reporters for the non-expert reader, while journals are written by scholars/experts in a particular field for a more advanced audience. Journals are usually sponsored by a professional or scholarly group and may be refereed, while magazines are not. This does not mean that magazines are not a valid source of information, but check with your instructor to see if (s)he will accept magazines as sources.

Instead of leafing through a year or two of a newspaper, magazine, or journal it is usually more efficient to use a PERIODICAL INDEX to locate articles. This library subscribes to many specialized indexes GALILEO is the best source for the online versions. Each index covers a different set of periodicals; the list of periodicals is usually found in the first few pages of a paper index or in the information record (i) for a computerized index.

Two GALILEO indexes which cover general interest periodicals, a good place to start for current topics, are: Periodical Abstracts and Ebsco Host. Subject-specific indexes may be found in various formats. Check the online catalog for those in paper form and GALILEO or “Other Databases” from the Jack Tarver Library home page.

Many citations found though GALILEO are available in full text online. If the full text is not available and we do not subscribe to the periodical, ask about interlibrary loan at the reference desk.