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Guide to Writing at Stetson University

This guide is designed for students and faculty to use as a resource for what “good college writing” looks like—and how students can achieve it—and how faculty can encourage it.

What is Information Literacy?

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) defines Information Literacy as: 

"the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning"

More on Info Lit

As the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy (January 10, 1989, Washington, D.C.) said:

Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.

Information fluency is defined by the Associated Colleges of the South as “the optimal outcome when critical thinking skills are combined with information literacy and relevant computing skills.” Information fluency is the synergy among critical thinking, information literacy, and relevant, appropriate computer skills. It results in finding information efficiently and effectively and using it in appropriate, ethical, and legal ways.

The Stetson Core (General Education) courses, including First Year Seminars, are designed to introduce and cultivate information fluency. That’s why, in First Year Seminars and in other writing intensive courses, we expect students to learn how to use and evaluate information from any source, but particularly from the resources (print and electronic) of the duPont-Ball Library. A starting place is to read this section of The Guide to Writing at Stetson University and then practice using the resources mentioned here.

To begin, this Guide will introduce the steps in the research process with which the Library can be most helpful. Those steps are exploratory or preliminary research: choosing, refining, and developing a preliminary topic, including using primary and secondary sources and reference materials;

  • conducting focused research;
  • evaluating sources, including websites;
  • properly citing the sources used in the paper or presentation; and
  • consulting with research librarians.

Picking a Topic

Choosing a topic is the first step in the research process. It's important to choose a topic that you're interested in, but also something that is manageable. If you pick a topic that is too broad, you will be overwhelmed with sources. Conversely, if you choose a topic that is too narrow, you may have trouble finding any sources. 

The Five Ws of journalism are important considerations, and just as applicable here when deciding on a topic:

WHO is impacted by this topic?
WHAT are the major questions surrounding it?
WHERE is your topic important?
WHY did you select it?
WHEN is or was your topic important?

More considerations for topic selection

In college, you may often have a lot of freedom to choose your own topic for a research assignment. Ideas for research topics can come from many different places, such as:

  • class readings & discussions
  • conversations with professors or classmates
  • news, the media, & the internet
  • your own personal experiences & interests
  • library collections & databases

The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to library resources that may help you select and refine a research topic. 

Using encyclopedias to choose a topic

Encyclopedia entries can be very handy when you are working on choosing a topic. Use them to:

  • Browse entries to find topic ideas
  • Read an entry that looks interesting to you so that you can:
    • Get an overview of a topic to decide whether or not you want to continue with it
    • Learn about major concepts or issues to decide how to narrow a topic down
    • Determine the appropriate vocabulary to use to search for more detailed information on your topic

Sometimes a general encyclopedia or Wikipedia may be sufficient. At other times, specialized encyclopedias may be more useful. Encyclopedias written on specific subjects will usually have more detailed information and are written for an academic audience. 

Remember that encyclopedias should usually be considered a starting point for research. They won't replace a peer-reviewed, scholarly source.

The duPont-Ball Library subscribes to a few databases that include many specialized encyclopedias, and we also have print and electronic encyclopedias.

Choosing a current event or issue for your topic

If you want to research a contemporary social issue, browse the following databases for background info, news, and other information that can help you learn more about & narrow down your topic.

Of course, when you are researching current events and issues, there's a high risk that you'll find information that is inaccurate or intended to mislead you. Check out the following guides for more help 

Database Searching

1. Start by identifying the major concepts, themes, works, or authors that you want to research. These are your keywords. Only type your keywords into the search box- don't try to type in an entire thesis statement or research question. 

2. Most of the time, you'll either have too many search results to sort through, or too few to choose from. Use the following tips to expand or limit your search results as needed. These tips should work in most library databases. Some databases have additional or different tips you can try. When you're in a database, look for a link labeled "Help" or "Search Help" for information specific to that database.

Did you get too many search results or a lot of irrelevant sources? Try this:
Add additional keywords- (ex: college AND stress AND academics)
Choose more specific search terms- (ex: hiking AND DeLand instead of hiking AND central Florida)
Exclude words from your search results- (ex: travel NOT “time travel”)
Use search filters­- limit by source type, date of publication, language, subject, & more.
Choice of database- select a database with a narrower scope of subject matter
Search by subject- search for your terms as a subject instead of as a keyword
Search for a phrase- add quotation marks around a phrase to keep the words in that order (ex: "south africa" instead of south africa)

Didn't get enough search results? Try this:

Choice of keywords- choosing the right keywords is key. Try experimenting with different terms. (ex: Movie OR cinema OR film OR motion picture)
Too narrow topic- try looking for sources on a broader, related topic (ex: hiking AND central Florida instead of hiking AND DeLand)
Too many search terms- begin with 1-2 search terms that best represent your topic, then add more as needed. Avoid long phrases.
Too many search filters- avoid using any filters that are unnecessary
Choice of database- select a database with a broader scope of subject matter
Use wildcard & truncation symbols*#? Allow you to search for multiple spellings of a term
When you’ve found one source, try this:
Subject headings- does the database list any subject headings to your source? Click on these links to find more.
Reference List- browse your source’s reference list or bibliography to find additional sources on the same topic
Who’s cited this?- use Google Scholar or Web of Science to find sources that have cited your source since it was published
Author- has the same author published additional material on the topic?

Keyword vs. Subject Searching

Chart taken from Honors College Co-Curricular Workshops LibGuide, Lone Star College Library, Kingwood, TX

Search Tricks

Phrase searching allows you to search for a phrase. Use quotation marks around the phrase in order to tie all the words together in the order they must appear in. For example, search for "skin cancer" or "the girl with the dragon tattoo."

Wildcard. A wildcard is a placeholder that can represent one or more characters in your keywords. Usually represented by a question mark. For example, searching for colo?r would return both color and colour.  

Truncation. Truncation is a placeholder that can represent one or more characters at the end of your keywords. Usually represented by an asterisk. For example,  searching for educat* would tell the database to look for all possible endings to that word.  Results will include educate, educated, education, educational, or educator

Proximity searches use operators to designate how closely, and in what order, you want the search terms to appear. Typically the proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) or word (NEAR) and a number (to specify the number of words appearing between your search terms). For example, curriculum N3 theories would search for curriculum within 3 words of theories, in any order. 


Search Limiters

You may limit your search in the following ways:

  • Limit to articles that are peer reviewed.
  • Limit to articles that are available full-text.
  • Limit to only those journals Stetson owns.  
  • Limit by date range.
  • Limit to articles in one magazine.  

On the search screen, look for a box to check next to phrases like:

  • Peer Reviewed
  • Scholarly Journals
  • Full Text
  • Stetson Titles

Look for a line where you can limit the date published, indicate a date range, or type in the name of a specific journal title.

How Academic Libraries Impact Student Success

As librarians we are enthusiastic about creating positive connections between the library and aspects of student learning and success. Librarians participating in the Assessment in Action program conducted research about academic library impact on student success, retention, persistence, and student learning. From that research, five areas that explain how librarians and libraries can help and are particularly noteworthy: 

  1. Students benefit from library instruction in their initial coursework. Information literacy instruction provided to students during their initial coursework helps them perform better in their courses than students who do not.
  2. Library use increases student success. Students who used the library the library in some way (e.g., circulation, library instruction session attendance, online database access, study room use, interlibrary loan) achieved higher levels of academic success (e.g., GPA, course grades, retention) than students who did not use the library.
  3. Collaborative academic programs and services involving the library enhance student learning. Academic library partnerships with other campus units, such as the writing center, academic enrichment, and speech lab, yield positive benefits for students (e.g., higher grades, academic confidence, retention).
  4. Information literacy instruction strengthens general education outcomes. Library instruction improves students’ achievement of institutional core competencies and general education outcomes such as inquiry-based and problem-solving learning, including effective identification and use of information, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and civic engagement.
  5. Library research consultations boost student learning. One-on-one or small-group reference and research assistance with a librarian enhances academic success, as documented by such factors as student confidence, GPAs, and improved achievement on course assignments.

Taken from ACRL's Academic Library Impact on Student Learning and Success - Overview 2017

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email Call or text 386-747-9028.