Long experience as a librarian has taught me to emphasize this first step. It is essential to get background information about your topic before diving into deeper research sources. You won't be able to recognize quality sources of information about a topic that you can't define.
For example, you may find articles criticizing the relationship practices or political governance of Harvey Milk but pass right by them among your search results because you don't know basic facts about Harvey Milk. Who was he? Where did he live? When did he live? What was his work? What was he notable for? These are pieces of information that you need before finding long articles about him.
For our research, one of the most important questions for you to answer during this stage is whether your subject is alive or dead. We will look at different types of information sources depending on whether the person is alive now or died 300 years ago.
I suggest that you consider two fine sources of background research information: Credo Reference and the online Encyclopedia Britannica. You can find a video above showing how to search Credo Reference, which is a library database. You can find links to both sources below.
Once you have chosen a topic and have Dr. Griffin's approval for it, it is time for you to develop keywords. As the above video explains, keywords are condensed expressions of your topic that you can use as search terms. Here are some potential keywords for finding praise and criticism of your topic:
These are some generic keywords. As you do background research, you may find particular ways in which a person is famous or infamous. Harvey Milk, for example, was an early advocate for gay rights who was the first openly gay person to run for and win elective office--specifically, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He successfully led opposition to a state bill that would ban homosexuals from working as teachers. But he was also an early ally of the cult leader Jim Jones. What this information, I can develop these focused keywords:
Now try this keywording process with your own topic. Write out some general keywords and so some searching. Then, with the background knowledge that you have gained, write more specific keywords.
If you're on campus and using a networked computer, you can go straight into the library's databases by just clicking on them. If you're off campus or if you're on campus but are using a laptop, then you'll need to login for remote access. This video shows you how.
The database Academic Search Complete is a general-purpose database of newspaper, magazine, and scholarly journal articles on a wide variety of subjects. Many of its articles are on historical topics, so if your subject has been long dead (e.g. Abraham Lincoln, Socrates, Pancho Villa), then try this database. The above video shows you how. You can find a link to the database below.
Socrates was famous and infamous 2,400 years ago. Dave Chappelle was famous and infamous last week. As a result, searching for information about the two of them is different. If, like Dave Chappelle, Jay Z, or Mark Cuban, your subject is still living and actively written about, then it's a good idea to search for newspaper articles about him or her. Try the database US Major Dailies. The above video shows you how to search. Below is a link to the database.
We have two excellent ebook databases. These let you read full-text books online. The interfaces can be confusing, so I have included a tutorial video for each one.
The video above shows you how to search the ebook database titled EBSCO eBook Collection.
The video above shows you how to search the database ProQuest EBook Central.
We have two educational video databases that are useful for this kind of research. Try searching for your person's name in both of them.
You must cite your sources according to the MLA style of documentation.
This is our video that introduces MLA documentation. I urge you to watch the entire video carefully before starting to write your paper. It is much easier to cite correctly as you go along, rather than try to fix your documentation after you have written your paper.
This is our sample paper. You can model the formatting of your paper after this one. If you are unsure how to set up the formatting in Microsoft Word so that it fits the requirements for MLA formatting, you could instead download this blank Word document that has the formatting already set up for you.
This is our 2-page handout that summarizes the MLA style. It includes most of the types of sources that students commonly use.