Isothermal Community College logo Library Isothermal Community College Library
Last updated 1/29/16
Isothermal Community College
P.O. Box 804, Spindale NC 28160
(828) 395-1307  fax (828) 286-8208

Charles P. Wiggins, Director of Library Services

Research Starts Here!
Help for Doing Research and Writing Papers

Choosing a Topic
Getting Information About It
   - Keywords, Synonyms & Related Terms
   - Resources for Finding Information
Evaluating Information
Primary & Secondary Resources
Writing Resources
Avoiding Plagiarism
Documenting Resources

1. Choosing a Topic

When you have to choose your own topic for a paper, you can get ideas by visiting a Megasite where broad topics are listed.  When you find a topic of interest, you can click on it and investigate it until you settle on a specific aspect of the topic that most interests you. 

Megasites contain comprehensive, encyclopedic subject information.  Some good ones are:

Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues An educational site which provides "resources for critical thinking and to educate without bias. We research issues that are controversial and important, and we present them in a balanced, comprehensive, straightforward, transparent, and primarily pro-con format at no charge."
Digital Librarian "A librarian's choice of the best of the Web." A comprehensive site maintained by Margaret Vail Anderson, a librarian in Cortland, New York.
IngentaConnect IngentaConnect provides a free online search service of published content from reliable research sources and is one of the UK's top 20 Web services.
Especially for Young Researchers:
Start Squad
"The very best place to start" for kids to find information.


2. Getting Information About the Topic

A. Finding Keywords, Synonyms and Related Terms
When you know the subject you will write about, it is important to identify:
  • keywords (words that pinpoint your topic)
  • synonyms (other words meaning the same as your topic), and
  • related terms (words or phrases that are similar in meaning to your topic)
These words and phrases will serve you as additional search terms to help you find all possible information on your subject. To find keywords, synonyms and related terms, you can use dictionaries, thesauri or other reference books.

Electronic resources for finding keywords and related terms include:

B. Resources for Finding Information on Your Topic
When you have keywords, synonyms and related terms for your topic, you can find information by searching in:

Books * - to find a book on a subject, use the CMC Libraries Consortium Catalog; e-books (electronic-format books) indexed in the catalog are located on EBSCOhost eBook Collection via NC LIVE.  (To access this database away from the college campus, you must first use a campus computer to set up a free account.) Project Gutenberg is a source of freely-accessible copyright-free (mostly pre-1923) e-books. Other sources are listed at the Internet Links page under Literature
* Distance learning students, please see the special note on the Interlibrary Loan page about getting books from the college library.
and Journals
- to see if the library has a magazine or journal on a subject, use the Periodicals Holdings list
Articles from
Journals and
Other Resources
- for articles on any subject, use - for articles on literature, use --- and Shmoop: Literature databases
- for articles on U. S. history, use Shmoop: History
- for articles on medical and health, use  STAT!Ref database
Search Engines - to find information on the Internet
While Google is by far the largest and most popular of these, it is useful to expand your search with others, as explained on the UC Berkeley's Recommended Search Engines page: 

"Not everything on the Web is fully searchable in Google. Overlap studies show that more than 80% of the pages in a major search engine's database exist only in that database. For this reason, getting a "second opinion" can be worth your time. For this purpose, we recommend Yahoo! Search or Exalead. We do not recommend using meta-search engines as your primary search tool."  

(Source: "Recommended Search Engines." 2012. Regents of the University of California. UC Berkeley Library. 2 Aug. 2012. <>.)


3. Judging the Value of Information
Since anyone at all may put any kind of information on the Internet, not all information found there is reliable.  Information Literacy--Evaluating Resources contains guidelines for distinguishing scholarly information from propaganda, and aspects to consider when evaluating websites.

4. Primary vs. Secondary Sources of Information
If your instructor asks you to use both primary and secondary sources of information, find out the difference at the Xavier University Library site (click on "next" to see a list of examples).

5. Other Writing Resources
Need tips on how to get started writing your paper? Here are some links to Writing Resources on the Library's Internet Links webpage.

6. Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism may have very serious consequences at the collegiate level. Find out how to steer clear with Avoiding Plagiarism.

7. Listing Sources of Information
You will need to list the resources from which you gather the information to write your paper. Documenting Resources gives you information and links on using various documentation styles for citing both traditional and electronic information.

Some links on this site go to external web sites not connected with Isothermal Community College. Their inclusion is not an endorsement by Isothermal and Isothermal is not responsible for accuracy of their content.