Steelman Library
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Research - Step By Step


Your topic

  • Meets requirements
  • Holds your interest
  • Has information available
  • Cleared with professor

Technology Tip | Mind Mapping

Mind mapping

  • brainstorm
  • map ideas
  • connect information

General Databases to Start Research

  • Scholarly, multi-disciplinary full-text databases accessed in one search.
  • The accepted authority on English language meaning, history, and pronunciation.
  • General index of articles on nearly every topic.
  • A comprehensive database portal which is comprised of several distinct reference databases covering social, scientific, health, historic, business, economic, political and global issues.

Choosing a Topic


Once you have an idea, brainstorm some words that authors could use to describe that idea. These will become your search terms.

Books for Choosing Topics

10,000 ideas for term papers, projects, reports, and speeches : intriguing, original research topics for every student's need.

Call Number: LB1047.3 .L36 1995

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What Are Encyclopedias and What Can They do for You?


Project Information Literacy - Wikipedia

Generating Search Terms

Wikipedia - What's the Big Deal?


  • Learn topic
  • Discover key points
  • Follow sources
  • Do Not Cite

Why Use Them?

Use popular magazines when you need:

  • information or opinions about popular culture
  • up-to-date information about current events
  • general articles by people who are not necessarily specialists about the topic

Use newspapers to:

  • find current information about international, national and local events
  • find editorials, commentaries, expert or popular opinions

Read more about Magazines

Database Tutorials

Where Can I Find Scholarly Journal Articles on a Topic?

Popular Magazines and Newspapers

If you only want to read popular magazines, limit your search to popular magazines. If you only want to read newspapers, limit your search to newspapers. Each databases does limits in a different way. For example, Proquest allows you to click a tab entitled Magazines.

  • Scholarly, multi-disciplinary full-text databases accessed in one search.
  • Academic OneFile is the premier source of peer-reviewed full-text scholarly content across the academic disciplines. With millions of articles available in both PDF and HTML full-text, Academic OneFile is both authoritative and comprehensive.
  • 1985-present
  • General index of articles on nearly every topic.
  • A comprehensive database portal which is comprised of several distinct reference databases covering social, scientific, health, historic, business, economic, political and global issues.

Ads in Popular Media


Ads in popular magazines can tell you a lot about the culture.  Try

What are Scholarly Journals and what can they do for you?

Scholarly journals

  • latest research
  • discover key authorities
  • peer-reviewed (judged by other experts)
  • required by your professors

Zotero-Citation Management

It is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.

Zotero works with Microsoft Word to create your bibliography for you.

General Databases to Start Research

  • Scholarly, multi-disciplinary full-text databases accessed in one search.
  • The accepted authority on English language meaning, history, and pronunciation.
  • General index of articles on nearly every topic.
  • A comprehensive database portal which is comprised of several distinct reference databases covering social, scientific, health, historic, business, economic, political and global issues.

Database Tutorials

Using EBSCO to Find Scholarly Sources

Where to Find Primary Sources

Need to Read About it? Here are some Good Definitions

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Evaluating Information AAPC

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation Process

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation Process 

  • Checking for previous work. Has someone already fact-checked this source?
  • Finding the original source. Who originally published the information and why?
  • Reading laterally. What do other people say about this publication and author?
  • Circling back. How can you revise your original search to yield better results?
  • Checking your own emotions. Is your own bias affecting your evaluation?1

The questions below will help you think critically during the source evaluation process:

  • Purpose: How and why the source was created. 
  • Relevance: The value of the source for your needs. 
  • Objectivity: The reasonableness and completeness of the information. 
  • Verifiability: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information. 
  • Expertise: The authority of the authors and the source. 
  • Newness: The age of the information. 

1Based on Caulfield, Mike. "Four Moves and a Habit." Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, 2017.

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation by Ellen Carey (6/18/18) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

P.A.C.R.A.T. Purpose, Authority, Currency, Relevancy, Accuracy, Type

P.A.C.R.A.T.  Purpose, Authority, Currency, Relevancy, Accuracy, Type

This acronym is designed to help you review and evaluate information sources for your academic use.

Purpose: How to evaluate different types of information to accomplish a specific purpose is important. Is it news, research, political or marketing?

Authority: Authority from a source usually comes from the author. What are his or her credentials? What are the publishers' motives and authority for publication?

Currency: As you look at information, ask yourself: When was the information written and published?

Relevancy: What kind of information is included in the resource?

Accuracy: Establishing accuracy is an important part of evaluating the reliability of the information. Can the information be verified?

Type: You will need different types of information. Internet, News, Magazines, Research, Books.

Evaluating Information

*Who wrote it?  *What gives them the right to write about it? *Who published it?  *Why do they want to convince you of their argument?  *Do they talk about their methods and data and research? *Can you find the background resources they used?   *Is it current?  *Does it need to be current? 

Technology Tip | Google

Google is what most people use to search the web.  A random search on your topic can yield a million random web sites.  If you think carefully about who the stakeholders are in your topic, you can use Google to find the web presence of organizations such as companies, government agencies, think tanks, consumer groups--in short, people who have a reason to convince you of their point of view. See our page on Stakeholders

What and Why


  • remember key ideas
  • synthesize information
  • organize what you read/hear
  • different styles

Organizing Notes

Technology Tip | Citation Tools

Use Technology

What it is and What it Can do for You

Paraphrasing enables you to use another author's ideas in your paper, but it is difficult to do well. If you paraphrase too lightly, you could be accused of plagiarizing, which is against the student code. Here are some links to examples of good paraphrasing to help you.

Plagiarism Video

Paraphrasing Examples


To find help with writing citation styles:

  1. Click the tabs above
  2. Online Writing Lab (OWL)
  3. Ask a Librarian
  4. Academic Center for Enrichment (ACE) 863-667-5137

Check with your professor or in your syllabus to see which style your paper should be formatted in.

Research Papers

"The purpose of a research paper is to synthesize previous research and scholarship with your ideas on the subject. Therefore, you should feel free to use other persons' words, facts, and thoughts in your research paper, but the material you borrow must not be presented as if it were your own creation."

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th Edition. New York: MLA. 55. Print.

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There are quite a few different ways to cite resources in your paper. The citation style usually depends on the academic discipline involved. For example:

Check with your professor to make sure you use the required style. And whatever style you choose, BE CONSISTENT!

Microsoft Word

Office 365

Zotero works best with Microsoft Word and SEU students can get Office 365 at no cost.

MLA Guiding Principles

MLA 9: What's new in the Ninth Edition?

Discover style changes from the 8th edition.

MLA Handbook 9th Edition

MLA style is…

[a system of] common sense guidelines aimed at helping writers at various levels conduct research and provide their audiences with useful information about their sources.

These principles:

MLA Handbook. Eighth ed., Modern Language Assn., 2016.

  • "Cite simple traits shared by most works...
  • Remember that there is often more than one correct way to document a source...
  • Make your documentation useful to readers" (3-4).

Zotero-Citation Management

It is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.

Zotero works with Microsoft Word to create your bibliography for you.

Works Cited Quick Guide

MLA 9 Works Cited Quick Guide

List each element relevant to your source in the order shown on the template.

Omit any element that does not apply.

Important/Helpful Links

Additional Citation Information

Help Finding DOI

If you are citing an article from a scholarly journal and there is no DOI listed, you may click the link below and follow the directions to attempt to find a DOI.

DOI search

Add in front of your DOI and it should become a hotlink to the article you are citing if you have the correct DOI.

Microsoft Word

Office 365

Zotero works best with Microsoft Word and SEU students can get Office 365 at no cost.

Guides to APA Style


APA 7 Manual

APA Templates

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Zotero-Citation Management

It is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.

Zotero works with Microsoft Word to create your bibliography for you.

Basic Citation Styles

Citation Styles
Type of Citation Parenthetical Narrative in Text
One work by one author (Luna, 2020) Luna (2020)
One work by two authors (Sales & D'Agostino, 2020) Sales and D'Agostino (2020)
One work by three or more authors (Martin et al., 2020) Martin et al. (2020)

Groups as authors - First citation

Subsequent citations

(National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2020)

(NIMH, 2020)

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 2020)

NIMH (2003)

Groups as authors (no abbreviation) (Stanford University, 2020) Stanford University (2020)

Source: American Psychological Association (2019). Page 266

Direct Quotations & Paraphrasing

In-Text Citations

After a quote, add the first entry in Works Cited — usually the author's last name and a page reference. "The in-text citation should direct the reader unambiguously to the entry in your works-cited list…" (page numbers used in this guide indicate where the topic is found in the MLA Handbook).

Example: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" (Seuss 54).

If using the author's name in your text, do not include it in the parentheses.

Example: In his scholarly study, Dr. Seuss observed that "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" (54).

If you use more than one work by the same author, abbreviate the title to a noun phrase.

Example: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" (Seuss, Fox 117-118).

If more than one author has the same last name, add their first initial, if needed, use the first name.

Example: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" (D. Seuss 55).

If two authors wrote the work, list both separated by and, if three or more, list the first author followed by et al

Example: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" (Seuss and Johnson 116).

If no pagination information is available, but paragraphs are numbered, include that information.

Example: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" (Seuss, par. 56).

If no pagination information is available and paragraphs are not numbered, the work must be cited only in its entirety, but you can include words in your text that indicate about where to find the quote.

Example: In the first third of his article, Seuss mentioned that "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."

Note: "Identifying the source in your text is essential for nearly every kind of borrowing…quotations…facts…paraphrased ideas" (MLA 57).

Books (Print & Online)

Book Citations
Type of Book Citation Example
Book: General

AuthorLastname, F. N. (Year). Book title. Publisher.

AuthorLastname, F. N. (Year). Book title. http://www.xxxxxxxx

AuthorLastname, F. N. (Year). Book title.

Entire Book: Print Version

Burgess, R. (2019). Rethinking global health: Frameworks of power. Routledge.

Book with editor

Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer (D. Wright, Ed.). Chelsea Green Publishing.

Entire Book: Electronic Version

Youmans, C. (2016). Mahler and Strauss: In dialogue. Indiana University Press.

Gutman, R. W. (1999). Mozart: A cultural biography.

Entire Book: Print Version (Two Authors)

Hock, R., & Price, G. (2004). The extreme searcher’s Internet handbook: A guide for the serious searcher. CyberAge Books.

Entry in Online Reference Work

Graham, G. (2005). Behaviorism. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2007 ed.).

Entry in Online Reference Work (No Author)

Trebuchet. (2009). In Merriam-Webster online dictionary (11th ed.).

Book: No Author

Begin citation with title. For example:

NAICS Desk Reference: The North American industry classification system desk reference. (2000). JIST Works.

Chapter in a Book

Willson, Jr., R. F. (2005). William Shakespeare's theater. In J. Rosenblum (Ed.), The Greenwood companion to Shakespeare: A comprehensive guide for students (pp. 47-64). Greenwood Press.

For additional examples, see pages See Reference Examples APA 7 10.2 pp 321-323

Journal Articles (Print & Online)

Journal Article Citations
Type of Article Citation Format/Example
Journal: General

AuthorLastname, F. I. (Date). Article title. Journal Title, Vol, pages.

Note: Include the digital object identifier (DOI) if one is assigned. If you retrieved the article online and no DOI is available, include the journal's home page URL.

Journal Article with DOI

Herbst-Damm, K. L., & Kulik, J. A. (2005). Volunteer support, marital status, and the survival times of terminally ill patients. Health Psychology, 24, 225-229.

Journal Article without DOI

Graham, S. (2006). Impossible to hold: Women and culture in the 1960s. Journal of American Studies, 40, 156-159.

Sillick, T. J., & Schutte, N. S. (2006). Emotional intelligence and self-esteem mediate between perceived early parental love and adult happiness. E-Journal of Applied Psychology, 2(2), 38-48.

Journal with Non-Continuous Pagination (each issue begins on page 1)

Simmons, C., & Becker-Olsen, K. (2006). Achieving marketing objectives through social sponsorships. Journal of Marketing, 70(4), 154-169.

Magazine Article

Reed, S. (2006, August 21). Seeing past the war. Business Week, 16(4), 35-36.

Online Magazine Article

Clay, R. (2008, June). Science vs. ideology: Psychologists fight back about the misuse of research. Monitor on Psychology, 39(6).

Newspaper Article

Seward, Z. (2006, December 14). Colleges expand early admissions. Wall Street Journal (Eastern ed.), pp. D1-D2.

Online Newspaper Article

Brody, J. E. (2007, December 11). Mental reserves keep brain agile. The New York Times.

For additional examples, see pages See Reference Examples APA 7 pp 320-352

Audiovisual Media

Audiovisual Media Citations
Type of Media Citation Example
Entire Albums

The Beatles. (1967). Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’s Band [Record]. United States: Capitol Records.

Individual Songs

Glover, Frank. (2009). One way ticket. On Politico [CD]. n.l.: Owl Studios.

Rerecording by Artist other than Writer

Goodenough, J. B. (1982). Tails and trotters [Recorded by G. Bok, A. Mayo, & E. Trickett]. On And so will we yet [CD]. Sharon, CT: Folk-Legacy Records. (1990)

Spoken Word Recording

Darling, S. (Speaker). (1988). To Kill a Mockingbird (Cassette). United States: Recorded Books.

Musical Score

Beethoven, Ludwig van. (1932). Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. Boston: Oliver Ditson.


Van Nuys, D. (Producer). (2007, December 19). Shrink rap radio [Audio podcast].

Motion Picture

Spielberg, S. (Director). (1982). E.T. the extra-terrestrial [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.


Ryan, K. O., & Schrank, L. (Writers). (2008). Body language I: Beyond words [DVD]. Available from

Single Episode from Television Series

David, L., & Seinfeld, J. (Writers). (1995). The soup nazi [Television series episode]. In Seinfeld. NBC.

Map Retrieved Online

Lewis County Geographic Information Systems (Cartographer). (2002). Population density, 2000 U.S. Census [Demographic map]. Retrieved from

For additional examples, see pages See Reference Examples APA 7 pp 320-352

Other Online Sources

Other Online Sources Citations
Type of Source Citation Format
Online Posting: General

AuthorLastname, F. I. (Year, Month Day). Title of post [Description of form]. http://www.xxxx

Include a retrieved date for online sources that update and change frequently, and would appear before the URL. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://wwww (see APA7 Rule 9.16 p 290)

(If only author's screen name is available, use that for the author's name.)

Entire website

It is sufficient to give the website address in the text (in parentheses).


APA Education [@APAEducation]. (2020, January 3). Want a sneak peek of some of @APA’s proposed introductory psychology learning outcomes and recommendations? [Tweet]. Twitter.


National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, November 28) Suicide affects all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. Check out these 5 Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain [Infographic]. Facebook.

Blog Post

Oracknows. (2019, September 28) Antivaxers on Twitter: Fake news and Twitter bots

(Note: "Oracknows" is a screen name, which the author used when posting to this blog.)

For additional examples, see pages See Reference Examples APA 7 pp 320-352

Performances & Personal Communications

Personal communications may be private letters, memos, non-archived electronic communications, personal interviews, etc. Because they do not provide recoverable data, they are not included in the reference list. The same is true of live performances.

Instead, you should cite these sources in your text with the initial and last name of the communicator and as exact a date as possible.


Narrative E.-M. Paradis (personal communication, August 8, 2019)

Parenthetical (T. Nguyen, personal communication, February 24, 2020)

If you are citing a recording or archived copy of the performance or personal communication, these forms are recoverable and should be referenced in your Works Cited list as a video, online forum post, tape recording, etc.

AMA Blog and Twitter

Get the lastest updates on AMA Style. Follow @AMAManual on Twitter for daily tips and links or check out the blog.

AMA & Zotero Video

American Medical Association Style Example

The AMA style is radically different from APA. The in-text citations are superscript numbers and the References appear in order with the superscript numbers. Example paragraph with in-text citations. Note references don't have hanging indents and are in the order cited, not alphabetical order by authors last name.

Clinical trials are critical to advancing oncology care and their success is dependent on enrollment. In the United States, only 2–4% of newly diagnosed adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials.1 Manual screening for patient eligibility is expensive and inefficient.2 Automated systems to increase accrual to clinical trials are needed.

Clinical research informatics tools may improve the efficiency of identifying patients for clinical trials.3–5


  1. Lara PN Jr., Higdon R, Lim N, et al. Prospective evaluation of cancer clinical trial accrual patterns: identifying potential barriers to enrollment. J Clin Oncol. 2001;19(6):1728–1733.
  2. Penberthy LT, Dahman BA, Petkov VI, DeShazo JP. Effort required in eligibility screening for clinical trials. J Oncol Practice. 2012;8(6):365–370.
  3. Miotto R, Weng C. Case-based reasoning using electronic health records efficiently identifies eligible patients for clinical trials. JAMIA. 2015;22(e1): e141–e150.
  4. Ni Y, Wright J, Perentesis J, et al. Increasing the efficiency of trial-patient matching: automated clinical trial eligibility pre-screening for pediatric oncology patients. BMC Med Inform Dec Mak. 2015;15:28.
  5. Seroussi B, Bouaud J. Using OncoDoc as a computer-based eligibility screening system to improve accrual onto breast cancer clinical trials. Artificial Intel Med. 2003;29(1-2):153–167.

Notice the source superscript 3–5 refers to references 3, 4, and 5. Example taken from: Eubank MH, Hyman DM, Kanakamedala AD, Gardos SM, Wills JM, Stetson PD. Automated eligibility screening and monitoring for genotype-driven precision oncology trials. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. March 2016.

Example AMA Paper

Zotero-Citation Management

It is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.

Zotero works with Microsoft Word to create your bibliography for you.

Additional Info

Additional information on Chicago/Turabian style may be found at the websites below.  Please be aware that websites may refer to Author-Date or In-Text styles that are used by some colleges/departments, but the notes (usually footnotes) and bibliography styles are used in most situations at Southeastern:

Zotero-Citation Management

It is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.

Zotero works with Microsoft Word to create your bibliography for you.

Zotero, Turabian, & Word in 3 Minutes

Turabian Documents

Cover Art

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Footnote -Books

Single Author

1. Robert W. Gutman, Mozart: A Cultural Biography (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999), 188-189.

Two Authors

1. Randolph Hock and Gary Price, The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher (Medford: CyberAge Books, 2004), 111.

Three Authors

1. William Davidson, Daniel Sweeney, and Ronald Stampfl, Retailing Management, 6th ed. (New York: Wiley, 1988), 42-48.

Four or More Authors

1. Veronica Coulshed, et al., Management in Social Work, 3rd ed. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 24.

Book:              Editor as Author

1. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 43.

Work in a Series

1. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 728.

Chapter in a Book

1. Robert F. Willson, Jr., "William Shakespeare's Theater," in The Greenwood Companion to Shakespeare: A Comprehensive Guide for Students, ed. Joseph Rosenblum, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 54.

For additional examples, see pages 171-186 in the Turabian Manual (2018).

Footnotes - Print Articles


1. Carolyn Simmons and Karen Becker-Olsen, “Achieving Marketing Objectives through Social Sponsorships,” Journal of Marketing 70, no. 4 (2006): 155.


1. Stanley Reed, “Seeing Past the War,” Business Week, August 21, 2006, 35.


1. Zachary Seward, “Colleges Expand Early Admissions,” Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2006, Eastern edition.

For additional examples, see pages 187-193 in the Turabian Manual (2018).

Footnotes - Electronic Sources

Article from a library subscription service (permalink)

1. Rosemary Ward, “Background Check,” Psychology Today, March-April 2006,…;

Entire website

1. “Internet Weather Source,” National Weather Service, accessed December 21, 2014,

Online article from magazine website

1. Coco Masters, “The Takeaway Diet of 2006,” Time, December 17, 2006, accessed January 10, 2014, ().>

For additional examples, see pages 186-196 in the Turabian Manual (2018).

Footnotes - Personal Interviews & Films

Personal Interview

1. George W. Bush, interview by author, February 10, 2007.


1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, directed by Steven Spielberg (Universal Pictures, 1982).

Recorded Film

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, DVD, directed by Chris Columbus (Warner, 2002).

 TV Program 1. “The Soup Nazi,” Seinfeld, NBC, aired November 2, 1995.

For additional examples, see pages 197-198 in the Turabian Manual (2018).

Bibliography - Books

Single Author

Gutman, Robert W. Mozart: A Cultural Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Two Authors

Hock, Randolph, and Gary Price. The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher. Medford: CyberAge Books. 2004.

Three  Authors

Davidson, William, Daniel Sweeney, and Ronald Stampfl. Retailing Management. 6th ed. New York: Wiley, 1988.

Four or More Authors

Coulshed, Veronica, Audrey Mullender, David N. Jones, and Neil Thompson.  Management in Social Work.  3rd ed.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Books: Editor as Author

 Vanhoozer, Kevin J. ed.  The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Works in a Series

 Hagner, Donald A.  Matthew 14-28.  Word Biblical Commentary.  Dallas: Word Books, 1995.

Chapter in a Book

 Willson, Jr., Robert F. "William Shakespeare's Theater." In The Greenwood Companion to Shakespeare: A Comprehensive Guide for Students, Joseph Rosenblum, 47-64. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

For additional examples, see pages 171-186 in the Turabian Manual (2018).

Bibliography - Print Articles


Simmons, Carolyn, and Karen Becker-Olsen. "Achieving Marketing Objectives through Social Sponsorships." Journal of Marketing 70, no. 4 (2006):154-169.


Reed, Stanley. "Seeing Past the War." Business Week, August 21, 2006.


Seward, Zachary. "Colleges Expand Early Admissions". Wall Street Journal. December 14, 2006. Eastern edition.

 For additional examples, see pages 187-193 in the Turabian Manual (2018). 

Bibliography - Electronic Sources

Article from a library subscription service (permalink)

Ward, Rosemary. "Background Check." Psychology Today (March-April 2006): 34-35.…;

Entire website

"Internet Weather Source." National Weather Service. Accessed December 21, 2014. 

Online article from magazine website

Masters, Coco. "The Takeaway Diet of 2006. Time, December 17, 2006. Accessed January 10, 2014. 

For additional examples, see pages 186-196 in the Turabian Manual (2018).

How to Cite Music Sources

The Western Libraries of the University of Western Ontario have provided an excellent guide for citing music sources in essays and bibliographies.

Citing Music Sources 

Citing Government Sources

Style and Form Manual For Graduate Thesis and Project Preparation at Southeastern University

SEU Definition of Plagiarism

Plagiarism occurs when a writer uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original material without acknowledg­ing its source. Plagiarism includes unattributed use of any source, in any medium, published or unpublished. Work already submitted for a grade in another course may not be resubmitted unless the professor specifically states otherwise.

Examples of Plagiarism

  • Quoting or paraphrasing material without attributing it to its source
  • Copying segments from the work of others without giving proper credit
  • Submitting as original work written entirely by someone else

Plagiarism Video

Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

Some easy steps you can take to make sure you aren't plagiarizing:

  1. When in doubt, cite!
  2. Ask a peer or the Writing Center to proof your paper.
  3. Make sure you are familiar with the citation style for your class.
  4. Don't copy or paraphrase, hide the original and use your own words.
  5. Remember, at SEU, plagiarism is a serious offense. See the Academic Integrity Policy below.

Literature Reviews


Literature reviews play a crucial role in academic research across various disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of what literature reviews are and offer insights into their form and construction.

What This Handout Is About

This handout will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

What is a Literature Review, Then?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period. A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

How is a Literature Review Different from an Academic Research Paper?

The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper is likely to contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.

Why Do We Write Literature Reviews?

Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasize the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.

Who Writes These Things, Anyway?

Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself.

Let's Get to It! What Should I Do Before Writing the Literature Review?


If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor:

  • Roughly how many sources should you include?
  • What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
  • Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
  • Should you evaluate your sources?
  • Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?
Find Models

Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review. You can simply put the word “review” in your search engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.

Narrow Your Topic

There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope. And don’t forget to tap into your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.

Consider Whether Your Sources Are Current

Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.

Strategies for Writing the Literature Review

Find a Focus

A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.

Convey It to Your Reader

A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine.
  • More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.
Consider Organization

Once you’ve got a focus, and you’ve stated it clearly and directly, consider the most effective way of presenting the information. Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:

First, Cover the Basic Categories

Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.

  • Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
  • Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?
Organizing the Body

Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario and then three typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:

You’ve decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.


If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.

By Publication

Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.

By Trend

A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.


Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” and a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.

But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.


A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary.

Additional Sections to Consider:
  • Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
  • History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.
  • Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

Begin Composing

Once you’ve settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to write each section. There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a sample paragraph from a literature review about sexism and language to illuminate the following discussion:

However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are more likely to produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990). Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as “writer,” “pedestrian,” and “persons.” The students were asked to describe any image they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3 men to each woman in the masculine “generic” condition and 1.5 men per woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source: Erika Falk and Jordan Mills, “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense,” Women and Language 19:2.

Use Evidence

In the example above, the writers refer to several other sources when making their point. A literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.

Be Selective

Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review’s focus, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.

Use Quotes Sparingly

Falk and Mills do not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short quotes here and there are okay, though, if you want to emphasize a point, or if what the author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk and Mills do quote certain terms that were coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. But if you find yourself wanting to put in more quotes, check with your instructor.

Summarize and Synthesize

Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton’s study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study’s significance and relating it to their own work.

Keep Your Own Voice

While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the writer’s) should remain front and center. Notice that Falk and Mills weave references to other sources into their own text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with their own ideas and their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.

Use Caution When Paraphrasing

When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. In the preceding example, Falk and Mills either directly refer in the text to the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own, for example, Gastil’s. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism.

Revise, Revise, Revise

Draft in hand? Now you’re ready to revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea, because your main objective is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your review again to make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your review so that you’ve presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be sure to use terminology familiar to your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang. Finally, double check that you’ve documented your sources and formatted the review appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising and editing process, see our handout on revising drafts.

Works Consulted

We consulted these works while writing the original version of this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find the latest publications on this topic. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial. We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anderson, Jonathan, and Millicent Poole. Thesis and Assignment Writing. 2nd ed. Brisbane: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Falk, Erika, and Jordan Mills. “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense.” Women and Language 19 (2): 61-78.

Gastil, John. “Generic Pronouns and Sexist Language: The Oxymoronic Character of Masculine Generics.” Sex Roles 22 (11-12): 635-648.

Hamilton, Victoria. “The Effects of Learning and Context on the Recognition of Gender-Neutral Pronouns.” (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1988). Dissertation Abstracts International, 49 (08), 238A. (UMI No. 88-16747)

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout (just click print) and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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