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Doing Library Research: Getting Started

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Getting Started

When you are assigned a research paper or project, you may feel a little overwhelmed. There is so much information, and so little time! How do you go about finding just the information you need? Experienced researchers follow a process called a "search strategy." The search strategy outlined in this guide will work for many research projects. However, not all of the details of this guide will pertain to all topics or research problems.

Start your research as early as possible. The extra lead time will allow you to take full advantage of the services offered by the library, including specialized reference assistance and document delivery of items not available in the Helmke Library.

Getting Help

Remember the first rule of using a library: Help is Always Available! Ask at the Service Desk for assistance or for an appointment with a subject specialist.

We have prepared a handy Information Worksheet to help you plan your search strategy. Use it online by typing your notes in the spaces provided on the worksheet or print the worksheet to write in your notes by hand.

Using Basic Library Resources


Use IUCAT Catalog (Indiana University's online library catalog), to find books in the library's collections. The default keyword search from on-campus computers is set to find materials in Fort Wayne Helmke Library only, or you can change the library location to ALL to search all the libraries in the IU system.

Complete the Searching IUCAT Tutorial to Increase your skills in finding books and other library materials in IUCAT.  The self-paced interactive tutorial includes a pair of quizzes, and takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Keep in mind that general books on a subject may have pertinent chapters or sections on your topic. Check the back-of-the-book index for relevant entries. You may also find other books on your topic through serendipity (a legitimate search strategy!) by browsing the books located on the shelves nearby.

The online library catalog will also show whether there are any printed book-length bibliographies on your topic. These can save you a lot of time when you are compiling a working bibliography.

Books not available at IPFW Helmke Library may be requested through the library's Document Delivery Service.


Periodicals (also called serials, magazines, or journals) are usually the first place that scholars or scientists report new research findings, theories, or discoveries. They are therefore essential for research on very current topics or problems, especially in the sciences. Also, articles in periodicals are useful to update information found in books. Periodical articles generally deal with much more narrowly focused, current topics than do books.

To find useful periodical articles, consult one or more periodical indexes. Most of the library's databases and indexes are now available on the Web.

Once you have selected a number of periodical articles to read, you are ready to locate the periodicals in the library. To find out if IPFW library owns what you need, type the title of the periodical in IUCAT Catalog (Indiana University's online library catalog). Note that IUCAT contains only periodical titles, never the titles of articles. Choose a Browse search and type the title: review of educational research, for example, ignoring initial articles: a, the, la, das, etc. Select Title or Periodical Title to begin your search. The default library location from on-campus computers is Fort Wayne Helmke Library. Choose the matching title from the Search Results list to see if FORTWAYNE owns the volume and year you need. Note the call number and library shelving location.

Newspapers and News Digests

Newspaper articles are frequently the best sources for recent developments on topics of current interest or for contemporary accounts of past events. Some of the country's major newspapers are indexed in databases such as Academic Search Premier. Instead, they have their own special indexes. 

Government Publications

The U.S. government supports a wide range of research activities and is a major collector of information and data used by citizens, researchers, and policy makers. Congress itself investigates an incredible number of issues and topics each year from abused children to nuclear power. Expert witnesses present to Congressional committees much information that is not published or available elsewhere. Most U.S. documents in this library are included in IUCAT, the online catalog.

In addition to the federal government, states and local governments issue research reports, consumer publications, statistics, and other information on a wide variety of topics. Use IUCAT or Index to Current Urban Documents (Reference Z7165 .U5 I654, current years on index tables)

See the Government Gateway page for Internet resources from the U.S. government and other agencies.

Facts and Statistics

Statistical information may be useful to your argument. You may also want to verify statistics you see elsewhere. 


Sometimes the best way to find the information you need is to ask someone who knows about the topic. Instructors, librarians, and heads of organizations or government agencies are all possible authorities to consult. Newspapers are a good place to ascertain names of local authorities. Interviews with these people can supplement the information you find elsewhere. The library has prepared a Fort Wayne Newspaper Index that you may find helpful.

Biographical Data

Whether you want a full-scale biography with references to further information, or just a few facts about someone, there is probably a biographical source to provide the answer. Check-out the Biography and Genealogy Master Index.

Book Reviews

When you are assigned a book to evaluate, it often helps to read how others have evaluated it. Use the library guide to Reviewing Non-Fiction Books for hints on what to include in your review.