Research is a step-by-step process. Here are some procedures you might want to keep in mind:
Step 1. Identify your your topic
Think of a question you might want to answer in your paper. For example, 1) "How have representations of Native Americans in movies changed over the years?" 2) "What events led to baseball's 'Black Sox' scandal of 1919? The accused players were banned for life from baseball. Should this have occurred?"
Step 2. Obtain background material on your topic
The subject encyclopedias in the Library's reference collection are specialized works in a particular discipline or subject area. A subject encyclopedia helps you get familiar with your topic by providing 1) a detailed, usually scholarly essay, 2) keywords useful for searching in databases, and 3) a bibliography for "further reading" that lists related works on your topic. The 3-volume Encyclopedia of Film contains an essay on "Native Americans and Cinema." Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture covers the "Black Sox Scandal." You can find an essay on one of the baseball players involved, Joe Jackson, in the 3-volume Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball.
How do you find subject encyclopedias? The Library's discipline-related subject guides, called LibGuides, contain lists of such works. You can also look up your broad topic in the catalog (such as movies or baseball), find the call number area, and then browse in the Reference collection. (You can also ask a librarian for assistance!)
Step 3. Find books (and Subject Headings)!
Use keywords in the catalog on the Library's home page to find books on your topic. At the same time, it is important to pay attention to the listed subject headings, which are controlled vocabulary words and phrases that describe a topic.
For example, a quick search under "Native Americans" and "Movies" will bring up the book The Pretend Indians: Images of Native Americans in the Movies (because your search words are in the title). But what if your search words are NOT in the title? This is where subject headings, which are listed on a book's record in the online catalog, can identify relevant works on a topic. When you click on the subject heading "Indians in motion pictures," you will find significant works that you otherwise might miss, such as Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the American Indian in Film and also the book Celluloid Indians: Native Americans and Film.
Books can have more than one subject heading, and watch for these! Besides "Indians in motion pictures" there is the heading "Western Films--History and criticism," which might provide other avenues for your research.
Books are shelved by call number: A - L (third floor) and M - Z (second floor). Reference books are on the first floor.
Step 4: Locating Articles
The Library's databases provide access to published material in magazines, journals, newspapers, and other sources. You can search through Quest on the Library's home page to find print and online resources through a single interface. You can also browse through the databases alphabetically or by subject. The Library's discipline-related LibGuides also provide links to the databases.
Step 5: Evaluating Your Sources
You have books and articles and other resources, but are they appropriate for your research? See the UMW Libraries' guide on Information Evaluation.
Don't forget that you will have to cite and document the sources you use. See the UMW Libraries' guide to Citing Resources.