Step 2: Gather

Your goal is to locate, retrieve, read, evaluate, and record information related to your research question or hypothesis.

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“The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.”
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~ Samuel Johnson
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Library Catalogs

Reference Databases

Search Engines

About this step

In order to accomplish this, you will:

  • Search for information using library catalogs, electronic databases, and general and specific Internet search engines.
  • Scan and read and make choices about what to check out, print or save.
  • Decide what sources to accept as valid based on a careful consideration of the information.
  • Summarize the viewpoints and facts that you find and record exactly where you find the information.

As you read, you will "interview" your sources.

  • Consider what the author is saying, when the source was written, and how the ideas are supported with facts and evidence.
  • With each sentence you read, consider the point being made. Is it logical? Is it valid? Does it change what you believe about the subject?
  • As soon as you can form a statement of what you believe to be true, jot down this statement—or thesis or revised hypothesis—your original position may change as you learn more about the topic.


  • You are on a fact-finding mission, but you will not search primarily for facts.
  • You will look for trends and patterns supported by facts.
  • In order to persuade your audience, one of whom will be your esteemed teacher, you must gather evidence from reliable sources.

When do you have enough sources?

  • When you can make a valid statement supported with evidence–when you can persuade your audience.
  • When you have at least three good reasons that your thesis is true.
  • When you have several facts or experts to support your reasons.

Soon, you will be the consummate authority on your topic! Go get ‘em!

Where will you look for information?

The sources you need will depend on your subject. It is important to view a variety of media types to gain a broad understanding of your topic.

In these locations:

  • School library media center
  • Public library
  • Other collections (such as university libraries, historical societies, or government agencies)
  • Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM), a collection of research databases available for all Minnesota citizens. Home use of the ELM databases requires use of a public library card number or a password. For further information, ask your library media specialist.
  • MnLINK: a catalog that searches all academic, public, special, and some school libraries in Minnesota
  • Worldcat ( a catalog that searches many of the world's largest libraries. (You may not need this now, but remember it for higher education).

Look for:

  • Internet web pages (including blog posts, wikis, etc)
  • Books
  • Reference articles
  • Magazine and newspaper articles
  • Sound recordings, including podcasts
  • Video in DVDs and streaming formats on the web
  • Historical documents and artifacts

What search tools will you use to find the best information to answer your question?

  • Internet search engines
  • Reference databases
  • Library catalogs
  • Interviews

Don't forget to look for people who are experts or eye witnesses! Conduct interviews in person, on the phone, through the mail or email.

Tips for using search engines:

  • Always check for an "advanced" option in your search engine window. The advanced options make searching easier!
  • Search engines might find millions of pages, but not millions of pages about your topic. The most relevant pages are listed first. Ignore the numbers and pay attention to the relevancy of your results. See PageRank™.

Tips for using databases:

  • Use this trick for database searches: if you enter two words and get zero or very few articles, try typing AND between the words. (Vietnam and draft)
  • Databases have powerful search features. They may allow you to search by subject headings (sometimes called terms) assigned by knowledgeable humans. Look for an option to do subject searches.
  • Look for an option to reformat the page for printing or emailing. This will save tons of paper!

Tips for using Library catalogs:

  • Library catalogs can also search by keywords, author, title, subject or date. Check for a feature that allows you to browse. A browse feature allows your to search in alphabetical order for books and authors.
  • When you find a book in another library that you would like to read, ask your school library media specialist about having the item delivered to you through interlibrary loan.

Tips for conducting interviews:

  • Do background research before the interview.
  • Prepare your questions in advance and practice the interview with friends or family.
  • Be ready to take notes or bring a recording device. Practice using the device (and remember the spare batteries.

What keywords will you use?

Language is power! Choose your search terms carefully!

Before you go to a computer or visit a library, you must carefully pick your keywords. Brainstorm and create list of words that you can use. Think of broad general terms and narrow specific terms. Broad terms may lead you to books or Internet pages where you can use indexes or hyperlinks to find specific subjects. Specific terms may lead you immediately to a source focused on your topic, but may not find sources that use slightly different words or spellings. Choosing the best keywords is a process that becomes easier with experience.


  • If at first you do not succeed, try again with related words before you change search engines or databases. (youth or adolescent instead of teen)
  • More is less. The more words you use, the fewer results you will get.
  • Use broader terms searching library catalogs and databases.
  • In search engines, specific terms may give you the results you need, but try using broader terms and then exploring the web sites that are linked from a main page.
  • Search for specific phrases by enclosing the words in quotation marks. "To be or not to be"

How will you identify the best sources to use?

You must learn to evaluate your sources. As you read an information source, ask yourself:

WHO?Who wrote this source (or site)? What are their qualifications? Are they an expert on the topic?
WHAT?What is the purpose of the source? Is it intended to entertain, inform or sell? Is the information fact or opinion? Is the information biased?
WHERE?Where does the information in the source come from? Is it documented? How do I know if it is true?
WHEN?When was the information published? Is it current?
WHY?Why should I use this source? Is it the best source of information for my purpose or topic?

Other considerations:

AND, Some technical tricks

  • PageRank™: How many other web pages link to the one you are viewing?
  • Backward links : What kinds of web sites link to one you are viewing?
  • Several search engines offer the functions above, but try the Alexa™ search engine to easily display useful information about web pages.

How will you record what you find?

You will need to develop a system to record and organize the information you find. Good old-fashioned note cards are still an excellent tool for recording your information.

Or, you can use one of the following:

  • Notebook paper
  • Word processor
  • PowerPoint™


  • A short summary of the main idea and the most important fact/s that support the idea.
  • Create a heading—a category that you think this information might fit into—for each point that you record. These categories are very useful in the next step.
  • Do not record every word in the source. Learn to paraphrase the source. (3 x 5 cards are useful here because they force you to take brief notes.)

How will you give credit to your sources?

Citation is the formal term for the act of crediting your sources.

Remember to record the necessary information for creating your Bibliography or Works Cited List. Write exactly where you found the information (including author, title, publisher, page numbers, specific URLs, etc.). You must provide enough information so that another researcher can locate exactly the same document. This information will be used in your final Bibliography or Works Cited page, so make careful notes.

Check with your teacher to determine which format you should use for your citations. The most common and the subject areas in which they are used are:

You can use note cards to record your bibliographic information. Your school may have a special program or templates to assist you in developing a bibliography, such as NoodleTools. Ask your library media specialist.

Or, use one of the following free tools:

Question | Gather | Conclude | Communicate: Essay - Electronic Slides - Video | Evaluate | Printer iconPrinter-friendly view

The Research Project Calculator is a project funded jointly by MINITEX and MnLINK to develop Cool Tools for Minnesota secondary school students and their teachers. It is based on the original Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota Libraries.

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