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The research process: APA referencing

The research process

Finding information for assignments

What am I writing about?

Before you begin your research it is a good idea to take the time to be very clear about your topic. What are the key concepts or ideas?
From this it is worth spending a few minutes brainstorming some keywords – the words that you will use to look for information. Remember: having more than one keyword to describe the same concept can be a good idea as it will allow you to get different results.

What sort of information do I need?

It is worth remembering that you can get different kinds of information from different places.
Ask yourself what sort of information do I need, and where might I find it? This list of suggestions could get you started:

  • Full, comprehensive or historical coverage can be found in books and reports.
  • Recent trends and developments in a topic can be found in magazines or newspaper articles. The online databases provided by the library can be an efficient way to find these.
  • Brief / factual / statistical information can often be found in dictionariesencyclopedias, handbooks, yearbooks or other reference books.
  • Personal interviews can be a good way of getting industry overviews, or expert opinions.
  • TV / film / documentaries can provide good overviews and ‘how to’ information

You will find that sometimes these resources will be online, sometimes off line, and sometimes there will be a ‘hard copy’ and an ‘e-version’ of the same resource. It doesn’t matter which you use, but it is worth emembering that not everything is online, and not everything online is available for free.

What is in the library?

The library has lots of books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs and other information resources to support your course. The library also subscribes to many eResources which you have free access to while you are a student. To search for materials in the library use the links on the library website (you can use it from home if you like).
Try searching the library catalogue using your keywords.

Subject guides

Library staff have produced a number of subject guides that can help direct you more quickly to resources relevant to your study area. Select the appropriate link from the Subject guides box on the library website.

Databases and other online resources

The library has access to a number of online databases that allow you to search for magazine and newspaper articles, videos, Australian Standards and other valuable resources.
Select the appropriate link from the Online resources guides box on the library website.
If you are off-campus you will need to enter your network login and password.

Library staff

Don’t let yourself get to the stage where you are tearing your hair out and spending unproductive hours in front of the computer screen. If you are having trouble finding the information you need, please ask library staff for help. They may be able to tell you in seconds where to locate the information you need, or spend time guiding you in using the library resources to find what you need.

The Internet – evaluating resources

Contrary to popular belief, not everything can be found on the Internet. However, quite a lot of good information can be. As with all information gathering, it is important to evaluate the information you find before deciding to use it.
The end of the URL (Internet address) can tell you a lot about where the page comes from. ‘.gov’ and ‘.edu’ are from government and educational bodies respectively. These organisations often have better quality control than some ‘.com’ sites. Look for official industry bodies and respected community organisations ahead of “Joe Blogg’s page on…”

Some useful questions to ask yourself are:


  • Who is the author? does it say? Are they qualified?
  • Who is the sponsor or publisher? Are they reputable? 


  • What topics are covered? What is not covered?
  • How in-depth is the information?
  • How accurate is the information? (not everything on the page will be new to
  • you, does what you are reading tally with what you have read elsewhere?)
  • Are there obvious errors (for example spelling mistakes)


  • Where is the page from? (try checking the country code at the end of the URL, or click ‘contact us’ to see if there is a physical location mentioned)
  • Is there a regional bias? (for example a page from Britain or America might not be consistent with Australian experiences)


  • When was the page last updated? (most pages have a ‘last updated’ message or a copyright year)
  • How current are the links? (broken links can indicate poor or slow updating)


  • This is the most important question of all: why has someone taken the time to post this information online?
  • What is the purpose of the website?
  • Are there underlying biases? Is the site trying to persuade you to a particular point of view?

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a part of Google that allows you to focus your search on more academic resources. It will allow you to search banks of free online magazine articles and books for information. To get Google Scholar click the ‘more’ button at the top of a normal Google search page and select ‘scholar’.

A word on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is written by all sorts of people around the world. Anyone can write and change whatever they want in Wikipedia (to a point), which means that personal bias and incorrect information can often be found. However, it can be a useful place to start research, to get an overview of a topic and some further references. It is not recommended that you directly use anything you find on Wikipedia in an assignment, but the ‘further reading’ part at the bottom of each page can give you ideas of other places to look for information. Feel free to use Wikipedia, but use it with caution!

Developing Keywords, University of Houston Libraries