Crunch Time

Crunch Time

So we’ve reached it at last – final exams time! Possibly the most stressful time of year for a student. You might be wondering how you can complete every paper, project, and presentation on your shoulders – particularly if you haven’t started your research yet. Well, the library’s here to help you keep your sanity, and get your resources quickly and efficiently. While it would have been better to start earlier, you’ll be glad to know that there are several things you can do to make this process easier, even at the last minute. You just have to focus on the most fruitful strategies and sources.


First, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you haven’t already picked a topic, select one that you already know something about. The more you already know about your subject, the better a foundation you’ll have to build on, and the less time it will take you to get to speed on the topic. You’ll be better at evaluating whether a source is true, as well. If you’ve already written a paper on that subject before, even better – you might already have one or two sources lined up that you can use again.

Next, you’ll want articles. At this point in the semester, it’s best not to rely on Interlibrary Loan (particularly for books – an article might come back in a few days, but don’t depend on it exclusively), so focus on what we have readily available here. And in that regard, not all of our databases are created equal. Obviously, we think they’re all great or we wouldn’t subscribe to them. But some are designed for different things.

At this point in the semester, you want full text, and as much of it as you can get. Focus on databases with that. Ones like JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and ProQuest Central either have a ton of full text or can easily be limited to just full text with a handy check box (many allow you to limit to peer reviewed material the same way). Business Source Complete, Wiley Online Library, and CINAHL Plus with Full Text are other great specialty databases with lots of full text for business, science, and nursing, respectively. Avoid the ones with little or no full text. They’re not bad databases – at another time, they might be perfect – but they’re a poor investment of your time right now. Web of Knowledge , Scopus, or Biography and Genealogy Master Index should be ignored.


Similarly, grab some ebooks. Databases like eBrary and EBSCO eBooks have material for just about any topic, and are just a keystroke away (good even if you’re literally doing your paper the night before, and the physical library is closed!). Professors often look for a spectrum of sources in your bibliography, so having at least one article and one book will go a long way towards a great grade.

It’s possibly you’ll have other requirements for some sources, as well. A common one is using a primary source. For science, medicine, psychology, or other research-oriented articles, this is one where the author conducted their own experiment. Skim through to see if the article has sections tagged Methods, Methodology, Sample, Results, or Analysis.  If it does, great – you’ve found a primary source.  If not, toss it and pick a different one. For humanities-oriented classes, a primary source is one where the author was directly involved in the events described. Examples include a diary, letter, or interview. Some databases like American Civil War: Letters and Diaries and North American Immigrant Letters & Diaries are perfect for that type of thing.

Sometimes, your professor will want you to use a lot of sources – maybe ten or more. So let’s say you’ve found a few books or articles that fit your topic, but not quite enough to meet your requirement. Check their lists of sources! Something that was useful for those authors is more likely to be useful for you, as well. Check to see if we have full text for the journal you want here or check IUCAT for books. There’s no sense spending time searching blind if someone else has already compiled a good set of sources for you.

Next, don’t read too much. Read the abstracts or summaries before you commit to a full article, and decide whether you want it based on that. That one paragraph can save half an hour of your life! Check the length, and don’t pick articles that are fifty pages long. And if you’re reading something that sounded promising but ends up going nowhere, skim the rest to see if it gets more relevant. If not, toss it and find something else. You don’t need to spend hours reading something that won’t help you. For books, make good use of the table of contents and the index (and the search feature, if you’re using an ebook). You shouldn’t read a 200 page book if you only need one twenty page chapter.

Next, you will probably be asked to make a list of your references. The Online Writing Lab from Purdue is by far the best guide on the internet on how to format and cite using MLA and APA style. It can help with the bibliography, in-text citations, and paper formatting like spacing, font, running headers, and title pages. Note that a lot of databases also have buttons for generating automatic citations, and these can speed up the process of making your works cited page. Just be sure to proofread them! Anything machine-generated like that can be vulnerable to errors (particularly in capitalization). But still, they can save you a lot of time.

And lastly, if you run into problems, ask for help immediately. It’s what we’re here for, and we want to help you. Don’t waste a couple of hours struggling and getting more and more frustrated. Let us smooth the process, connect you with what you need, and get you back on track to polishing that perfect paper. Contact us at anytime.

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