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African & African American Studies: Basic Research Skills

This guide lists information sources provided by LSU Libraries on topics within the study of the African diaspora.

The Research Process

The research process mainly involves three steps: finding, evaluating, and using information. It is not linear but rather iterative, meaning that you will be constantly revising each step as you discover more information by finding answers to questions related to your topic

The Research Cycle

A student often enters the academic research process because their professor gives them an assignment. Usually this assignment requires the student to choose a topic related to the course content or a course of study. This initial step can seem overwhelming. However, it does not have to be! 

When choosing a topic, here are 3 things to think about: 

  1. What are you interested in learning? Your topic should be something you find interesting, but not something you're already an expert on.
  2. Is your scope too narrow or too broad? The size of your topic should fit the size of your assignment. If it is too narrow, you will not be able to find enough sources. If it is too broad, you will find too many sources. 
  3. Has this topic already been explored in-depth by researchers? Focus on a topic that is open-ended and will allow you to draw unique conclusions. Avoid topics that have a wealth of well-established research and well-known conclusions such as "impact of cigarette smoking on human mortality" as well as topics that are overly controversial like abortion and gun rights. 

Topics can come to you through a variety of sources such as class discussions, personal conversations on current events, or even news stories that you come across. You can explore topics that you may be interested in writing about by doing some background research. 

Background research will help you gather basic facts about your topic and learn common jargon used by experts who discuss it. Find out more about background research through this video: 



Mind Mapping:

A learning tool that can be used to flush out your ideas and organize your thoughts using a diagram. You take your central idea and write out what you know about that particular area. Ask the who, what, where, and why questions surrounding your topic area. List key people, date ranges, policies, and even geographical areas that influenced the development of your topic area.
Creating a mind map gives you the space to remember what you know, and find gaps for what you would like to learn. It is a process that builds confidence in the research process and provides a guide for you to use while searching online and within the databases. It is a great addition to your search strategy rule book. 




What is a concept map?

It gives the relationship between individual ideas, words, or images that create a bigger picture. They depict requirements, cause and effect, and contributions between items. Concept maps are the best tool for developing logical thinking, breaking down complex systems, and understanding specific ideas' roles within more prominent topics. - Mind 

                  Table image from ZenFlow Chart

Web Mind Maps


Build anything together on Miro’s free, easy-to-use virtual whiteboard. 

LSU Library Resource

Reference & Data - African American Studies - Ramsey Library at UNC ...     Literati by Credo 
Credo Reference is a general reference solution for learners and librarians. Offering 551 hundred highly-regarded titles from over 70 publishers; Credo General Reference covers every major subject. Credo Reference is an online reference service made up of full-text books from the world's best publishers. Whether you're working on a research paper, trying to win trivia or just curious, Credo Reference has something for you.

Research is a process of inquiry so it starts with a question that you want to know the answer to. The answer to this question, based on a hypothesis derived from an analysis of your sources, becomes your thesis. So, how does one go about developing a good research question? 

As you conduct your background research on a topic of interest, you may begin to formulate questions about certain aspects of your topic. For instance, for the topic global warming and Antarctic penguins, you could begin to think about the following four research questions:

WHY might global warming reduce Antarctic penguin populations?

HOW could global warming change Antarctic penguins' habitats?

SHOULD efforts to preserve Antarctic penguins habitats be prioritized? COULD changes to international law regarding global warming improve the outcome for Antarctic penguins?

Any good research question always

  • Has more than one possible answer. Example: "What is the capital of Louisiana" can be improved to be "What factors led to Baton Rouge becoming the capital of Louisiana?"
  • Cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Example: "Do students who work full time graduate on time?" can be improved to be  "What are the impacts of full time jobs on student outcomes?" 
  • Defines specific parameters of inquiry. Example: "Should people drink caffeine?" can be improved to be "How does caffeine consumption by pregnant women impact the health of their unborn children?" 
  • Does not favor a particular answer. Example: "Do vacations help students perform better in school?" can be improved to be "How do various stress-relieving activities impact student performance?"
  • Is engaging and relevant. Choose a question that has meaning to you. 

For more information on this step of the research process, watch the following video: 





So you have a research question, now how do you go about finding answers? You first want to start with right resource to locate the right sources.


For academic research, one of the best resources available to you is LSU Libraries. Library resources are reviewed by librarians to ensure the quality of the sources in terms of relevance, credibility, trustworthiness, and reliability. Although using library resources may take some getting used to, things like discovery, the library's catalog, and databases are embedded with tools to help make your searches for information more effective and efficient such as filters and citation tools. Librarians are also readily available to assist you with your research. Finally, you are paying for library services through your tuition.

Other common resources: 

  • Search engine like Google is a free service that allows Internet users to search the open web and is most useful for gaining a general understanding about a topic since they offer a wide variety of information. NOTE that it is important to evaluate the sources you find search engines very closely since they often return sites with user-generated content (e.g. Wikipedia and YouTube), meaning that any user, regardless of expertise or education on a subject, can post information there. 
  • Google scholar is a specific search engine that performs broad searches on the open web for scholarly information such as articles, theses, and books from academic publishers, universities, and other online repositories. NOTE that many items may require payment to access them; full-text may not be available; and there are fewer humanities and social science articles than those for science and technology.
  • Wikipedia brands itself as a free encyclopedia and contains millions of articles on a variety of subjects. It is most useful for gaining a broad overview of a topic and identifying initial sources that support that information via an article's references, footnotes, or bibliography. NOTE that this is a popular site containing user-generated content that anyone can change at any moment. ALWAYS check an article's edit history and whether your professor allows this site as an information source. 



In order to find and effectively use information, you need to first understand how it is produced.  This is where the information timeline comes in - it shows the progression of information about an event or topic.  Understanding this timeline will help you better evaluate what sources you should turn to in order to find the best information.  

Day Of: Social Media, Internet, TV

  • Breaking information

  • Can be inaccurate, incomplete, biased, and highly emotional 

Week Of: Newspapers 

  • More detailed and factual reporting

  • Quotes from experts, statistics, and/or photographs

  • Written by journalists for general audience (not scholarly)

  • Opinion pieces begin to appear 

Week After: Popular Magazines

  • More detailed reporting including interviews, opinions, and analysis

  • Authors are diverse: professional journalists, commentators, scholars, or experts in the field

  • Factual information BUT can have bias reflecting the publication

Months After: Scholarly Journals

  • Detailed analysis backed by evidence-based research

  • Peer-reviewed which helps ensure accuracy and quality

  • Detailed bibliographies

  • Written by experts and scholars in the field

  • Written for a specific audience (scholars) - can be difficult to understand because of discipline-specific language or jargon

A Year After: Books

  • In-depth coverage often providing comprehensive overviews of topic

  • Detailed bibliographies

  • May have bias as authors' credentials and authority can vary 

  • Can be scholarly (detailed analysis) or popular (general discussion)

Years After: Reference Books

  • Factual information written with little emotion 

  • Authors are scholars and/or experts

  • Broad coverage of a topic 

The type of resources you choose very much depend on the type of sources that you need. The type and amount of sources that you need is often determined by your assignment outline and by your topic. Students often wonder how many sources are enough. The answer is always that you want to have enough sources of different types to help support your thesis. What types of sources are there? 

Primary & Secondary Sources 

Watch Video

A primary source is original information that has not been interpreted or evaluated by anyone else. It is an important source type to include in your research because it provides raw materials for you to analyze and use to support your thesis. Examples: diaries, letters, pictures, maps, literary texts, autobiographies, statistical data, etc. 

A secondary source interprets, critiques, or or analyzes a primary source. This is also an important source type because this can provide authoritative information to help support your arguments within your research papers. Examples: book reviews, monographs, biographies, articles by scholars or journalists, etc. 

A tertiary source, or reference work, provides objective information and basic facts. Generally, you will have already consulted this source type when you did your background research by looking at encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc. 

Scholarly vs. Popular

Watch Video

Scholarly Sources Popular Sources
 Written by scholarly experts Written by anyone (journalists, scholarly experts, professionals, and everyday people)
Written for a scholarly audience Written for a general audience, or an audience of non-professionals who are enthusiastic about a subject
Peer-reviewed or Refereed No peer-review process
Images convey information Images can just be there to look good
Follow formatting conventions relevant to scholarly disciplines No formatting conventions
Present the findings of scholarly research and experiments conducted by the authors of the article May share information about scholarly research conducted by someone other than the author 
Include lots of citations, formatted correctly Include few or no citations without any formatting standards

We live in a time in which we are constantly bombarded with information and anything that we wish to know is readily available at our fingertips. These news facets of modern life mean that our life skills now have to include the ability to sift through the information that not only meets our needs but also is credible, reliable, and trustworthy.  

This ability can be gained through the academic research process as you evaluates the sources that you have located.You can ensure that your sources are  credible, reliable, and trustworthy using the CRAAP Test, a common evaluation tool for web and library resources.

What does CRAAP stand for? 

Watch Video || Print Reference Sheet


The timeliness of the information. Depending on your topic, how recently a source was published may be a very important factor as to whether or not it is the right source for you. Ask yourself: 

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • If it is a website, are the links functional?

The importance of the information for your needs. Try to determine how useful the source is for answering your research question. Ask yourself: 

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?

The source of the information. Determine if the author of the content can be trusted to provide accurate information. Ask Yourself: 

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • For websites, does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content. There should be proof that the information is backed up by credible sources or data. Ask yourself:

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?

The reason the information exists. Determine what the author's intent is. Ask Yourself: 

  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?


If you do not appropriately cite your sources, then you are committing plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own by the Oxford English Dictionary. One accused of plagiarism can face major consequences in an academic environment that can include failing an assignment or class and academic suspension. 

Examples of Plagiarism:

  • Providing false or incorrect information about the source
  • Using an essay someone else wrote
  • Purchasing a paper and submitting it as your own
  • Not citing sources properly or writing a fake citation

How can you prevent plagiarism? By ALWAYS citing your sources! You always need to cite your source if you use:

  • Direct Quote. For short quotes, use quotation marks. For long quotes, use a block quote format (usually indented without quotation marks) appropriate to your citation style. 
  • Paraphrase. An effective paraphrase contains the same idea, concept and tone as the original source, but must be written originally by you.
  • Any information that is NOT considered common knowledge. Example of common knowledge: The White House is located in Washington D.C., the capital of the United States.
  • Statistics. Always cite statistics even if you use statistics that are common knowledge. 
  • Images or ideas from graphs, charts, or diagrams. If you find an image via search engine, make sure to identify the source url/link for that image so that you can cite it. 

There are 3 important reasons to cite your sources:

  • To credit to the ideas of others. It's important to give credit when you're using other people's ideas. Pretending other people's ideas are your own original thoughts is called plagiarism, and it can have severe academic consequences.
  • To help readers find your sources. Readers might want to find more information about the topic you're writing about. By citing your sources, you can lead them to credible relevant sources of further information.
  • To support your conclusions. You're probably not an expert on your topic yet, but by citing the ideas and thoughts of people who are, you give more credibility to your own conclusions.

How to cite your sources:


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