Skip to main content
Research Guides

Research Assignment Steps

Keep in mind while you research that:

  1. Some topics are easier to research than others (this example shows a easy to research topic because it is a specific event)
  2. There may be fewer sources (both secondary & primary) for some topics
  3. Research is a process of trial and error, you will likely run into some dead ends
  4. The best sources are not necessarily the first sources you'll find
  5. Your secondary sources will cite additional primary sources that you can then track down




  • 1. Choose a topic. 
  • Keep in mind your topic may change as you research -- you may end up narrowing or changing your focus. For this class I'm going to interview my mom about antiwar protests during the Vietnam War. 
  • I begin with some background information about the war as well as the protests so that I can ask her about specific incidents. I decide to start with the Encyclopedia of the Sixties. The entry for "Antiwar Movement" mentions organizations such as the "Student Peace Union," "Students for a Democratic Society," and "Free Speech Movement." The entry also mentions that major antiwar protests took place in March and April of 1965 and in November 1969. And it closes with the killings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.  Maybe it would be best to focus my interview and research on the Kent State shootings. 

    So I need to find background info on Kent State (not going to be in an encyclopedia of the 1960s). I decide to check the Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War instead and find an entry for the "Kent State University Shootings." The entry mentions that in the days following the killings, students protested on more than 500 campuses across the country. Hmmm wonder if there were protests at the UW? I may want to check on this.



  • 3.  Track down any articles and books listed in the bibliography of the encyclopedia entry. 
  • The bibliography at the end of the entry lists a number of books including a 1990 book, The Fourth of May: Killings and Coverups at Kent State. I cut and paste this title into UW Libraries Search and discover that we have a copy in Odegaard as well as in Suzzallo.

    I wonder if there are newer books on the topic and click on link for the official library subject heading (linked under Item Details) "Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970" and find a number of other relevent items including a collection of  interviews (a primary source!),
    Above the shots : an oral history of the Kent State shootings available as an ebook.


book example


  • 4. Now I want to see if I can find other secondary sources. I'm going to start off by searching for scholarly articles.
  • I start searching America History & Life for articles on the Kent State shootings. There seems to be more book reviews than articles but I keep scanning my results until I find some that look interesting. One of these is a 2013 article "Four Dead in Ohio" published in Journalism History. The pdf is available!

    The footnotes in the article leads me to additional primary sources including a government publication, Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, 1970. I cut and paste this title into
    UW Libraries Search and find that we have multiple copies.

  • I also search America History & Life for articles dealing with antiwar protests on college campuses. I use quotes for phrases and the asterisk (*) after protest to search for variant word endings: protest, protests, protestors, etc.



article example


  • 5. For newspaper articles search some of those listed under Primary Sources: News. Keep in mind that not every topic will necessarily be covered by a newspaper. Newspapers inherently focus on events more than issues. 
  • Since I need sources that cover May 1970. I begin with the New York Times. My initial search for: "kent state shootings" and finds only one article. This is a sign that I need to reformat my search so I try instead: "kent state" and shoot*. This works better and I find more than 20 articles published in a week.

  • I'm also going to check other mainstream newspapers such as the Atlanta ConstitutionWashington Post and Seattle Times (this may reveal post-shooting protests at the UW).
  • Plus I'm going to check Independent Voices, a collection of alternative news that includes some underground newspapers such as the Helix which was published in Seattle.
helix example
  • 6. For magazine articles search some of the sources listed under Primary Sources: Magazines. Most magazines from the 1930s-1980s are not online. 
  • Since I'm working on an early 1970s event I will need to use Readers' Guide Retrospective to identify articles published in magazines such as Time & Newsweek. Since it is a somewhat clunky database I will want to keep my searches simple and limit my to articles published in 1970.

time magazine cover
  • 7. I may now want to dig even deeper, beyond published primary sources and see if I can find oral histories, manuscripts, photographs & other material.
photo of national guard at kent state