WRITING WORKSHOP: Finding and Using Sources

research-paperThis week we begin working on two major assignments to finish out this semester: Writing a Research Report & Creating a PowerPoint Presentation. Both of these will be based on the same research. It is important to understand that you need to use all the time that you have. For example, if you finish this assignment early (06.4 Finding and Using Sources), be sure to move ahead with the EXTRA LESSON at the bottom of the page. Begin choosing your topic and thinking about the questions you need to ask as you approach your research. Then, when you finish the next assignment (06.5 Documenting Resources), begin your research. Do not WAIT, just because there is nothing else due that week. There are definite steps to follow. DO NOT just proceed as you usually do with writing a “report.” Make sure you understand the directions and that you follow them in order. Each lesson builds on the one before it. You will be asked to turn in different parts of the assignments at different times: Your Topic choice, Thesis Statement and Note Cards, Outline, Research Report, and PowerPoint Presentation. Your work will be sent back to you, if you do not follow the directions and complete the work in the right order.


In this Lesson, you will learn:

To identify and use available resources for conducting research

To identify and use print and electronic reference resources

To learn how to use the World Wide Web and to consult Web resources when researching topics

To interpret and use graphic aids

To understand how to conduct an interview or survey and to apply this understanding


Lesson: Finding Sources

This week, you begin working on writing a Research Report. However, before you even begin to start thinking about writing it, you must first learn about Sources (which you will be doing in this Lesson and the next one).


What are Sources?

They are where you find information for your report such as in books or on the Internet. They can even be people who you ask for information.


There are two basic kinds of information sources:

A primary source gives direct, firsthand information. Primary sources are letters, journals, diaries, original manuscripts, questionnaires, and interviews.

Secondary sources provide interpretations of, explanations of, and comments on material from other sources. Secondary sources are encyclopedias, textbooks, newspapers, magazines, biographies and other nonfiction books.


How do we find the sources we need? We go to the Library, we search the Internet, we look at Graphics, and we ask Experts.


Lesson 1: The Library and Media Center

Think of the library or media center as an information center for almost any topic you can imagine. Whether you are investigating consumer reports on CD players, figuring out how to fix a bike, or doing a research report on forensic sciences, the library can provide the answers to your questions.


Using Catalogs

The library’s catalog provides a complete listing of books, periodicals, media, and other materials available in the library system. Although some libraries still maintain the catalog on 3 x 5 cards, most libraries now have the catalog on computer, complete with onscreen prompts and information to direct your search.

For example:

Drop-down menus help you move through the catalog that shows:

Author’s name, book title, publisher, and copyright date

Subject heading of book

Book’s location and call number

Whether the book is in or checked out


Special Services

Don’t overlook the librarian when you’re trying to find information on a particular topic. Librarians are highly trained information specialists. Reference librarians can answer questions and tell you where to search for more in-depth information on your topic. Many libraries also offer telephone reference services. You simply call the library, ask for the reference desk, and then ask your question. Some libraries also sponsor book groups, storytelling events, films, and special interest lectures on such topics as travel or health. They may also have special sections on genealogy, local history, and fine arts.


The Library Collection

Library materials are organized into sections, which are standard among U.S. libraries. Becoming familiar with the sections of the library will make your research more efficient.


Sections of the Library
Stacks Fiction, nonfiction, biography and autobiography, oversize folios (large books that do not fit on the shelves with other books)
Search Tools: Catalogs and Indexes Library card catalog and online computer indexes

containing information about library materials and

their locations

Reference Encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, chronologies, and atlases
Periodicals Newspapers, magazines, and journals
Audiovisual Films, CDs, tapes, videos, and records
Children and Young Adults Fiction, nonfiction, and reference books written for

children and young adults

Computer Lab Computers with basic software programs, such as word processing, and may have access to Web and

other Internet sources

Microfiche and Microfilm Collections of older issues of newspapers and

periodicals reproduced on film


Fiction and Nonfiction

Along the library’s shelves, books are categorized generally as fiction and nonfiction.

Fiction includes novels and short-story collections, arranged in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. For example, if you wish to read a novel by Ernest Hemingway, you should look in the fiction section under H.

Nonfiction books are classified into subject categories. Most libraries classify nonfiction books according to the Dewey Decimal System.

This system classifies all books by number in ten categories:

000–099 General Works encyclopedias, handbooks, almanacs

100–199 Philosophy psychology, ethics

200–299 Religion the Bible, theology, mythology

300–399 Social Science sociology, economics, government, law, folklore

400–499 Language languages, grammars, dictionaries

500–599 Science mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology

600–699 Technology farming, cooking, sewing, nursing, engineering, radio,

television, gardening, industry, inventions

700–799 Fine Arts music, painting, drawing, acting, photography, games,

sports, amusements

800–899 Literature poetry, plays, essays—not fiction

900–999 History biography, travel, geography


Lesson 2: Using Reference Works

Using Print References

Among the many resources of a library, some of the most valuable for research purposes are reference works. The library stocks a variety of reference works in a special reference section. Reference works are useful collections of all kinds of information. To use reference works effectively, you need to know what kinds of information are in them and how they’re organized.


Library Reference Materials  


Kinds of Information How Organized
Almanacs and


Facts and statistics on current events, government, and other fields; books are usually published annually By topic or category
Atlases Maps and other information on population, temperatures, oceans, and place names such as the National Geographic Atlas of the World By region or topic
Encyclopedias General information on many subjects


Alphabetically by topic/subject

Dictionaries &


Information about famous people, past and present such as Webster’s Biographical Dictionary; longer biographical articles may be found in encyclopedias Alphabetically by last name
Dictionaries Word meanings, origins, spellings, and pronunciations Alphabetically by word entry
Chronologies Events in a historical time period By date or time period
Indexes References to articles and essays in newspapers and magazines By topic or author
Vertical Files Pamphlets, booklets, catalogs, handbooks, and clippings on vocations, travel, and colleges By topic


Using Databases

In addition to magazines, periodicals, and newspapers, many libraries have electronic collections of these materials as well. Electronic collections are large databases that allow you to search for articles on any number of topics. Often the library will subscribe to a database service, such as InfoTrac, NewsBank, or SIRS Researcher, so that the information is updated regularly. These databases may be available on CD-ROM or online and can be found in the library. You will find that different databases provide different services.

Some databases might provide:

  • Indexes to articles in newspapers, magazines, journals, and reference books
  • Full-text articles, sometimes with illustrations, charts, and maps
  • Daily updates that provide the most current news


Using Electronic References

Many reference materials are also available in an electronic format. One of the most popular electronic products is the CD-ROM encyclopedia. Many entries have articles with links to animation, film footage, and audio files.


Lesson 3: Searching the Web

The World Wide Web has changed forever the way we access and use information. On the Web, you can click onto late-breaking news, scan the articles of professional magazines, and ask questions of experts on the other side of the world. Be careful out there! Don’t get lost on the information highway. Learn some basic Web skills to become a savvy traveler.

Open and read the Handout: Internet Terms to Know (click on link).

Using Search Tools

The Web connects millions of documents through a system of linked “pages” or “sites.” To find general and specific information on the Web, you can use one or more of the many search tools available.

Here’s How to Choose a Search Tool

  1. To find general information about your topic:

Start with a directory, such as Google or StudyWeb. Directories are organized by categories, such as business, arts, and recreation. You can browse through a general category to get ideas to refine your topic.

  1. To find specific information to answer questions:

Start with a search engine, such as AltaVista or Infoseek. Search engines use software programs to search for words or phrases across thousands of documents.

TIP: Different search engines and directories draw their results from different pools of information. You may have to try out several of these tools to find what you are looking for.


Basic Search Strategies

Everyone has his or her own process for searching on the Web. There are a few steps you can take to tune-up your own results. If you are using a search engine, these tips can help you to narrow your search:

  1. Think ahead. Make a list of questions. Circle the key words in your questions. Use these words in the search box.
  2. Stick to the top search results. These are the closest matches to your keywords, and will most likely offer links to other useful sites.
  3. Read addresses. Every Web site has a unique address, or URL that reveals who published the site.

For example:

.edu signals an educational site

.gov signals a government site

.com signals a commercial site

.org signals a nonprofit organization or association

  1. Scan the summaries. A quick look can help you eliminate irrelevant sites.


Refining Your Search

If you get too many sites, use the Help or Search Tips feature of each search engine to narrow your search further.


Common Search Tips

Use “ ” Double quotation marks define an exact phrase or proper noun, such as “Baltimore orioles”
Use + The plus sign signals that each word or phrase must be included. Baltimore +orioles
Use – The hyphen or minus sign signals that a word or phrase must not be included. Baltimore +orioles -baseball


If you find too few sites, go back to your keywords and think of more general words to search, for example, orioles +birds.


Lesson 4: Charts, Graphs, and Diagrams

Charts, tables, graphs, maps, and diagrams present information in pictures—visual displays. These graphic ads can make complex information easier to understand. Use them to compare information, see trends across time, or understand how something works.


Reading and Analyzing Graphic Aids

There are common strategies you can use to understand any chart, graph, or diagram.

Here’s How to Understand Graphic Aids

Reading Graphic Aids

  1. Read the title or caption to get the big idea or topic.
  2. Read the labels to know what kinds of information are included.
  3. Read any keys or legends to learn how colors or symbols are used.
  4. Read the data to learn what specific information is presented.

Interpreting Graphic Aids

  1. Think about the big picture first. What patterns or general impressions does the data suggest?
  2. Ask questions about the information. Where are the extremes? Are there any holes or gaps?


Types and Purposes of Graphic Aids

Each type of graphic aid has a different structure and purpose.

Diagrams are drawings that show the parts of something or how something works.

Line graphs show patterns of change, or trends in data over time.

Bar graphs compare quantities.

Time lines show sequences of events.

Flow charts show steps in processes.

Circle or pie graphs let you compare the parts of the subject to each other and to the whole. The full circle represents 100 percent, or the whole of the chart’s subject. The sections within the circle are the parts that make up the whole.


TIP: Circle graphs can sometimes be misleading if the whole is a very small set of data. For example, you ask three people “Should we hire more police?” Two say yes and one says no. Your circle graph would show that 65 percent responded favorably to your question—but that represents only two people!


Lesson 5: Interviews and Surveys

Sometimes you need information that you just can’t find in books or online. Projects exploring current community issues, local history, or a special event often require that you talk to people.


Contacting and Interviewing Experts

Think about the kinds of information you need. Then ask yourself who might know something about your topic. Experts are people who know a great deal about specific topics. Use these guidelines to help you locate and interview an expert on your topic.

Here’s How to Find and Contact Experts

  1. List people and organizations that you think might be helpful. Use the phone book and professional directories to find out how to contact these people or organizations.
  2. Rehearse what you will say. Remember to tell who you are, what you want to find out, and why you are doing research.
  3. When you call an organization, be specific about your needs. Ask what person or department might be able to help you. Make an appointment to talk to the person.
  4. For phone interviews, plan before you call. Prepare a list of questions and be prepared to follow up on any new information you learn about your topic.

Here’s How

TIP: Tape-recording an interview is the best way to get an accurate record of their subject’s words. However, you must always ask your subject’s permission before you turn on the tape-recorder.


Using Surveys

Sometimes you want to collect information from a group of people. A survey allows you to gather and compare information about opinions, preferences, and beliefs across a large group of people.


Planning the Survey

The results of your survey are only as good as the questions you ask. Carefully plan what you will ask and how you will ask it.

For example:

Multiple Choice: gives clear choices; easy to tabulate answers

Rating Scale: gives data about how people feel about something

Yes/No: requires people to make a choice; easy to tabulate answers

Open-Ended: allows new issues to surface; hard to tabulate answers


Giving the Survey

The next step is to select a group of people, or sample population, for your survey.

  1. Decide whom and how many you should include in your survey.

For example: Do you include all the members of your community, or just those in your church? Your results will reflect the thinking of only your survey population.

The number of people included in a survey affects how meaningful the results will be.

For example: If only two are asked your question and both respond positively, the survey result would be 100%. However, the result would not be meaningful. In general, the greater the number of people surveyed, the more meaningful the results.

  1. Administer the survey in the same way to each person.


Interpreting the Survey

After you compile the answers to your survey question, think about what the information tells you:

-Do the results show a clear preference?

-Do the results show that certain groups of people think one way while other groups think another way?

-Are you surprised at any results?





Lesson 1: The Library and Media Center

EXERCISE: Using the Dewey Decimal System in the Lesson, write the number span and category in which you would find books on the following subjects:

  1. Native American folklore
  2. An almanac for the year 1971
  3. How to become a screenwriter
  4. What to see in Mexico
  5. Geometry
  6. The life of Mark Twain
  7. Spanish grammar
  8. How to raise chickens
  9. Microbiology
  10. The poetry of Maya Angelou


Lesson 2: Using Reference Works

EXERCISE: Which types of reference sources would you consult to find the following information? Write the name of the source or sources from the list in the Lesson.

  1. The capital of Myanmar
  2. Last year’s annual rainfall in Toronto, Canada
  3. The teams that played in the Super Bowl last year
  4. Edgar Allan Poe’s birthplace
  5. The distance between Denver, Colorado, and Buffalo, New York
  6. The number of elephants in Africa
  7. Courses offered at the University of Wisconsin
  8. A quotation from a famous political speech


Lesson 3: Searching the Web

EXERCISE: Choose the best answer for each question in this Internet basics quiz.

  1. Which of the following is a true statement about the Internet and the library? They both:
  2. A) have an expert librarian or specialist to answer your questions
  3. B) provide up-to-the-minute news
  4. C) close after hours
  5. D) provide access to newspapers, magazines, and journals


  1. What is the World Wide Web?
  2. A) a computer game
  3. B) a software program
  4. C) the part of the Internet that enables information-sharing via interconnected pages
  5. D) another name for the Internet


  1. Which one of the following is a search engine?
  2. A) Macromedia Flash
  3. B) Google
  4. C) Netscape
  5. D) Librarians’ Index to the Internet


  1. What is a URL?
  2. A) a computer software program
  3. B) a type of UFO
  4. C) the address of a document or “page” on the World Wide Web
  5. D) an acronym for Unlimited Resources for Learning


  1. http://www.classzone.com is an example of what?
  2. A) a URL
  3. B) an access code
  4. C) a directory
  5. D) a server


  1. Which one of the following is NOT an example of an extension in a URL?
  2. A) .gov
  3. B) .edu
  4. C) .npr
  5. D) .com


  1. What does this URL tell you about the source? http://vos.ucsb.edu
  2. A) It is associated with an educational institution
  3. B) It is an English teacher’s home page
  4. C) It is an article from a magazine
  5. D) It is from a directory


  1. You can optimize your search results by
  2. A) using several different search engines
  3. B) sticking to your topic and resisting distractions
  4. C) using reliable Web sites like National Geographic or the Library of Congress
  5. D) all of the above


  1. Which of the following is an example of effective online searching?
  2. A) Do a keyword search on one search engine. Browse through all the results.
  3. B) Formulate research questions, list possible sources, identify keywords, and begin your search.
  4. C) Visit chat rooms and find out what others are saying about your topic.
  5. D) Post a question on a message board.


Lesson 4: Charts, Graphs, and Diagrams

EXERCISE: NO Exercise for this Lesson

In Unit 5-Assignment 05.6, you were introduced to and created a graphic aid as a visual display. This Lesson was a review with a bit of added information.


Lesson 5: Interviews and Surveys

EXERCISE: NO Exercise for this Lesson

As I noted in the beginning of this Lesson, you will be doing a Research Report for Assignment 06.8. When you do your report, you may be conducting an Interview for one of your sources. So, for now, keep in mind this Lesson.



EXERCISE: At this point, I want you to open and read Lesson 06.7—Writing Workshops: Research Report.

Look in the Assignment section at the TOPIC choices I listed.

You need to choose a Topic now—you may choose one of the Topics I have listed, or you may choose your own Topic.

Tell me your Topic choice. I MUST approve it before you begin.


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