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Read the assignment details carefully

While this may seem like a basic step, make sure from the beginning that you understand the assignment. If you have any questions, ask your professor as soon as possible. Keeping the requirements, questions, and criteria in mind from the very beginning is key to receiving a good grade on any assignment. This is not something you want to make sure you understand for the first time after you've done a lot of research and writing!

Reading like a college student

Reading can be time consuming, especially when you don't know if what you're reading will pay off. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Skim the book [or article]. Examine the table of contents [or abstract] to get a feeling for the structure and main points of the book. Flip through the chapters, skimming the first few paragraphs of each, and then the section headings. Check the index for any topics you feel are especially important. Then, if you have time;
  2. Read the Introduction and conclusion. Most of the author’s theoretical position will be laid out in the introduction, along with at least a summary of the chapters and sections within. The conclusion revisits much of these points, and usually gives a good overview of the data or other evidence. Sometimes the conclusion is not marked as such; in this case, read the last chapter. Then, if you have time;
  3. Dip in. Read the chapters [or paragraphs] that seem most relevant or interesting. Get a sense for what the author is trying to accomplish. Flip through the rest of the book and look more closely at anything that catches your eye. Then, if you have time;
  4. Finish the book. Read the whole thing. If you know you’ll have time, skip 1 – 3 and just read, cover to cover.

Read the whole article at

Background Knowledge

In order to begin research, you will need a certain amount of information. After studying your assignment directions and picking a topic, you'll need to find some basic information. The term for encyclopedias and dictionaries is "reference materials". We have two main reference databases that can be a great start for your research.


Having a hard time coming up with a topic for your presentation or paper? Here are a couple of ways to brainstorm your way to the perfect topic:

  • Use a Mind Map: Search a keyword in the Credo Reference Mind Map. Each keyword will give you other related topic pages to narrow your search. Keep clicking until you find something that interests you!
  • Think Current: For an assignment where you have to make an argument or persuade your reader, you may want to pick a current event or issue to argue for or against. Opposing Viewpoints in Context is a great place to start. You can choose Browse Issues to get ideas on topics. Each topic page will have summaries of different viewpoints on the issue. Alternatively, the Featured News column on the right houses news articles on current events. Browse through either of these to get ideas for a topic!
  • Get Personal: Are you passionate about a cause? Is there a particular subject (sports, medicine, movies, etc) that interests you? Think of ideas that spark your interest. It's much easier to write about something you actually care about!
  • Narrow it Down: Choose a broad topic idea (e.g. football). Narrow this down until you get something that looks more like a thesis statement (e.g. football should be banned from high schools because of the danger of concussion OR football shouldn't be banned from high schools because it promotes teamwork). This page does a great job explaining how to refine a topic. Try searching the databases and see what kind of results you get. If you're getting too many, you might need to narrow it down more!

Evaluating sources and point of view