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*Research and Writing: Integrated Skills & Strategies*

Welcome! This guide will help you develop your research and writing skills by providing foundational knowledge of the iterative research and writing process as well as manageable steps for breaking down and navigating college research projects.

Still Struggling?

Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful.  Contact staff at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.


Keywords are the main words or phrases you will use to search for sources on your topic.  You can generally identify your first keywords by selecting the major terms from your research question.  You will use these terms as you search the library catalog, databases, and the web.  By creating a list of keywords, you'll be able to construct better and more efficient searches. 

For example, take the research question "Why has the acceptance of body art increased in American society over time?"  The keywords for this question are in bold in the text below:

Why has the acceptance of body art increased in American society over time?

Keywords: body art, American society

Three Steps to Choosing Keywords

1. Extract single keywords or short phrases.

As seen in our example above, you want to leave out articles ("a," "an," and "the"), prepositions or verb phrases (like "on," "in," "going to"), verbs (action words), and both adverbs and adjectives (descriptive words) when selecting keywords.  Instead, focus on the nouns in your sentence.

It's important to note that you do not want to use complete sentences when you start searching for sources.  Catalogs and databases struggle to identify relevant terms from full sentences, which is why you have to isolate those words in advance.

2. Experiment with synonyms.

Try to think of other words that have the same meaning as your keywords.  For example, if you started with the phrase "global warming," you might also want to try searching for "climate change."  An online or print thesaurus can help identify useful synonyms.

3. Brainstorm related terms or subtopics.

It helps to think of other words and phrases that relate to your topic.  This can be especially helpful if you are having trouble identifying good keywords or if you need to refine your research focus.  For example, if your initial topic was global warming, you might want to consider searching "acid rain," "air pollution," or "biodiversity."  Related terms are often more specific or less specific than your initial search terms.  Each combination will change the number, type, and relevance of your search results.

Three Steps to Choosing Keywords Example

1. Extract single keywords or short phrases.

Let's work with the keywords identified at the top of this page: body art, American society

2. Experiment with synonyms.

American society: America, United States

3. Brainstorm related terms or subtopics.

Body art: tattoo(s), tattoo parlor, tattoo artist(s), body piercing, piercing(s), performance art

American society: American men, American women, millennials

Note: The concept of time is important in the provided research question.  While no specific time period is provided, it might be useful to try adding search terms like "nineteenth century," "twentieth century," and "twenty-first century."  Searching for time periods is tricky, but it does sometimes yield useful results, particularly if you're trying to show how something has changed over time.

Annotated Bibliographies

An annotated bibliography constitutes a list of sources that you have identified for your research paper and includes a brief summary and analysis of each source. The goal is to briefly summarize the source, generally in 50 to 150 words, and explain why it is important for a topic. Annotations are a single concise paragraph, but might be longer if you are summarizing and evaluating.

The style of annotations can vary from simply summarizing sources, or taking it a step further, and provide an evaluation of sources. For an evaluative annotation, start by analyzing how the source changes your topic: what does it add to your understanding of the topic and the debate on the topic? What new questions does it bring up? Also, relate each source to your research question. Ask yourself how your research question may change because of the source.  Below, you'll find instructions on writing evaluative annotations. 

The components of an evaluative annotation

1. Citation: Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style. 

2. Summary: 1-2 sentence overview of the main arguments in the article or book

3. Annotation: Assess & reflect 

  • evaluate the authority or background of the author
  • comment on the intended audience
  • compare or contrast this work with another you have cited
  • explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic

What to include when assessing and evaluating

  • Purpose - Why are they writing the article or doing the research? 

  • Author - Who is the author? What is their occupation/position, education, experience? Is the author qualified? 

  • Author Bias - Does the author make assumptions upon which the rationale of the article or research rests? What are they? 

  • Relationships to Other Works - How does this study compare to similar studies? Are there specific examples with which this source agrees or disagrees? 
  • Source Content - What method of obtaining data was employed? Is the source based on personal opinion or experience? Interviews or library research? Experiments or tests? Etc. 
  • Intended Audience - Is this intended for the general public, scholars, or someone else? Is this reflected in the author's style of writing/presentation? 
  • Author Conclusion - At what conclusion does the author arrive? 
  • Significant Attachments - Are there appendices such as charts, maps, bibliographies, photos, tests, or questionnaires? If not, should there be? 
  • Justification - Does the author satisfactorily justify the conclusion from the research or experience? Why or why not? 

Source: Undergraduate Library University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Example of an evaluative annotations for a book and journal article, MLA style

Source: University of Washington Libraries