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Developing A Research Strategy

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Select a Topic

What do you want to know? What has been assigned? If you need an overview of the subject, a general dictionary or encyclopedia will help. Check the print or ebook collection and look for specific people,  places, events, and dates that can later be used in keyword searches of the subject:

Oxford English Dictionary 

Britannica Online (Note: for your reference only. Britannica cannot be cited as a scholarly source.)

Need a more detailed overview?  Choose a subject specific encyclopedia or dictionary,  Oxford Companion to Classical History in the library or online:

Early or medieval church history:  NewAdvent

Philosophy:  Plato, the Stanford University encyclopedia of philosophy

Music: Naxos Music Library 

Ancient civilizations: Ancient History Encyclopedia


Formulate a thesis statement

What do you want to know about the topic?  It may be general at this point, but you can narrow, broaden, and refine it as you do your research!


Research, research, research!

  • Research Guides for all courses with a research component have been developed in collaboration with your professors. These will direct you to their preferred sources and have already been approved as scholarly. 
  • Librarians!  Drop by their offices or email askalibrarian@phc.edu and connect with a friendly librarian who is familiar with your assignments , can help you refine your topic, and can direct you to appropriate sources.
  • On campus? Check the library's print collection, Voyager, for items in the on campus collection. 
  • Off campus and on campus? Check the library's online  eBook collection.
  • Expand your search : Resources suggested here are just a few of the many the library provides. PHC provides Library access to journal and newspaper articles in several locations.  The most often needed in your first year's of college are our general databases:

Evaluate your sources

Professors require that college level research projects are supported by scholarly sources. How do you know a source is scholarly? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the author? Is the author a credentialed expert on the subject?  Who is the publisher? Is the publishing company a recognized academic publisher?  A book written by your history professor on history would be authoritative while his book on fashion forward footwear would not.  Oxford University Press is acceptable while Mid-town Middle School Journalism Department would not.  
  • Is this accurate?  Is there evidence of bias? Does the author fail to support the premise with facts and appropriate research? Do other experts agree with this author? Is there a financial incentive for the conclusion? 
  • Is this current? Does this represent the latest findings in this subject area? Note: Some topics require very current analysis, such as public policy, while others, such as ancient history, might not. 

Cite your sources in the required format

You will be utilizing other people's ideas and conclusions in your research and ethically and legally they need to get credit. Any information that is generally well known or references to well-known documents, such as The United States Constitution, does not need to be cited, but information that you glean from others must be paraphrased or placed within a quote, then cited.  Lifting a paragraph out of WIkipedia or any source is unethical, illegal, and will always bring down a professor's wrath.  

Check the course syllabus for your professor's preferred citation style. Citation assistance in available in the library and online at Online Writing Lab (OWL).   Legal citations needed?  Check  out Georgetown Law's  Legal Citations.  


Refine your topic as needed and then write, write, write!

 Remember, always, that library research assistance is only an email away! askalibrarian@phc.edu .

 Created:  Thornhill, 2018.

Patrick Henry College Library

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