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Religion and Violence in America: Academic Research

Resource guide for 032:139:001 (RELS:3250:0001) Religion and Violence in America.

5 Steps to Research

A lot of students are uneasy about the library research process, not knowing how or where to start. This guide breaks the process into five easy steps: 1. defining your topic, 2. selecting and using the best research resources for your topic, 3. locating the information you identify in these resources, and most importantly, 4. evaluating the resources you've found and 5. documenting your research.

1. Defining your topic

Begin by clearly mapping out the concepts you want to research. This will help you identify the key terms and concepts you should use when searching electronic databases and print research resources.

a. Clarify your understanding of the topic by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What level of research does your assignment require? Is it a brief class presentation or are you preparing to write a research paper with a bibliography and footnotes?
  • What do you already know about your topic?
  • What are the main issues?
  • Does your topic deal with historical or current events?
  • Has your lecturer required that you consult certain types of materials such as popular or scholarly journals, newspapers, or a particular database?

b. Do some background reading to familiarize yourself with the topic

This will also provide you with relevant keywords or synonyms to use during database searching. Some key resources that will help you gather this information are:

Subject Dictionaries and Thesauri:

Dictionaries provide an alphabetical list of definitions of words, phrases, theories, terminology or people which can help you clarify basic information. Thesauri contain subject headings which list preferred research terms, usually produced to support a research tool.


Encyclopaedias provide a condensed overview of every branch of a subject.

At the end of an entry there is often a list of other useful books and journal articles.

If you cannot find an entry for your term or concept, check the back of the last volume - there is often an index directing you to where your term is found in the encyclopaedia.

Handbooks and Research Guides: A handbook is a short treatise or guide-book to a subject. Research guides provide an overview of the research process in a given area.

Bibliographies: Bibliographies contain the history or systematic description of literature on a specific subject, including information on authorship and publication details.

2. Selecting and Using the Best Research Resources

The Library Catalog For locating books, journals and magazines, and videos (Path: Start on library page then under ‘Search Resources’ click on ‘Infohawk Catalog) To review subject headings pick ‘Subject beginning with…’ from the pull down menu. To search reference collection click on the advanced search option at the top of the page. Under location pick ‘main reference’

EBSCOhost Academic Search Elite For locating articles (both popular and scholarly) (Path: Start on library page then under ‘Search Resources’ click on ‘Find Article’) the link will take you to General Databases/Indexes.

Issues and Controversies Published by Facts on File News Services, this database contains up-to-date and in-depth information about the most debated issues of the day.

CQ Researcher Online is the award-winning choice of researchers seeking original, comprehensive reporting and analysis on issues in the news. Controversial topics addressed in a balanced, unbiased manner in the CQ tradition.

New York Times - Proquest Historical NewspapersContains full-text access to the New York Times dating from 1851 (New York Daily Times) to the present. Documents display in PDF. (Path: Start on library page then under ‘Search Resources’ click on ‘Reference Sources by Type’ then click on ‘Newspapers’)

3. Locating the Information You Have Identified


A - N – 5th Floor

P - Z – 4th Floor

Magazines and Journals

3rd Floor


1st Floor

Reference Alcoves The Reference Collection books provide a readily available source of brief information on many subjects.  Shelved in alcoves, each alcove is identified by a number and the materials are arranged in call number order A-Z).  (Path: Located on the Northwest side near the information desk on the first floor.

4. Evaluating resources

Critically analyze information sources to evaluate the authority and quality of the books and articles you located. If you have found too many or too few sources, you may need to narrow or broaden your topic. Check with a librarian or your instructor.

  • Who is the author?
  • How current is the information?
  • How in-depth is the information? Is it accurate?
  • Can you see any bias?
  • What is the domain?

University Press vs. Regular Publishers





Scholarly vs. Popular Publications

Web vs. Library Resources




Evaluating Information

These sites offer some criteria to aid students as they evaluate information:

5. Documenting / Citing Your Research

Information sources always need to be properly cited in your work within the paper and at the end. Find out which citation standard your professor wants you to use (Chicago, APA, MLA) and use online and print guides to help you format each citation. Refworks is a helpful application that will format the entries for you.

How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

  • An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents.
  • Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation.
  • The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Annotations vs. Abstracts

  • Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes.
  • Annotations are descriptive and critical; they expose the author's point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority.

The Process

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

  • locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  • briefly examine and review the actual items.
  • choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
  • cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.
  • write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that
    • evaluate the authority or background of the author,
    • comment on the intended audience,
    • compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or
    • explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.

Sample annotated bibliography entry for a journal article

The following example uses the APA format for the journal citation:

Goldschneider, F. K., Waite, L. J., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51(4), 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

From: McCain Library

Information on Primary Sources

Primary Source - A firsthand account of an historical event or time period. Primary sources include diaries, correspondence, interviews, drawings, newspapers, autobiographies, photographs, government documents, etc.

Online @ Iowa

Check out the Online@Iowa tutorials for help with the following: