Choosing a Subject & Finding Background Information
Your teacher has recommended that you use InfoPlease to find preliminary information on your subject so as to find someone who interests you. The more interested you are in your subject, the easier this assignment will be.Mr. Murphy also recommends looking in an encyclopedia for background information. At the Demarest Library we have:
- The American Heritage Encyclopedia of American History – REF 973 AME
- The Art Book – ART 709 BUG (new shelf)
- Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia – 796.357 BAS
- Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists – 509.22 BIO, v.1-5
- The Concise Encyclopedia of English and American Poets and Poetry – 821.03 SPE
- Encyclopedia of the American Constitution – REF 342.73 LEV v.1-4
- Encyclopedia of North American Indians – 970.004 HOX
- The Encyclopedia of Women’s History in America – 305.40973 CUL
- The Encyclopedia of World Sports – J796 WUK
- The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock – 781.66 CLI
- Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern Art, from 1800 to the Present Day – ART 709.03 HUY
- Popular Musicians – 781.64 POP v.1-4
- Refrence Encyclopedia of the American Indian – REF 970.1 KLE
- Total Baseball: The Official Encylcopedia of Major League Baseball – 796.357 THO
- The World Book Encyclopedia – JREF 031 WOR v.1-22
- The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places – J910 WOR v.1-6
Some of these encyclopedias are downstairs in the children’s section; some are upstairs in the adult section. Some of these encyclopedias are reference books, which means you can only read them in the library. If you would like to take a look at one of these encyclopedias, you can ask Miss Kate (or any other librarian) for help finding them.
With your Demarest library card, you also have access to World Book Student which is essentially the entire World Book encyclopedia, plus guides to doing research, news articles, and primary source materials – all accessible from home. This is a great resource for getting some background on your subject.
Your project requires that you have three books. Be aware that it is entirely possible that there are not three books in the library system for every person on Mr. Murphy’s list. This is why doing pre-research when you’re selecting a subject is so important.
Since we at the library know all Demarest eighth graders have to do this project, we make an effort to make sure we have an appropriate biography for everyone on Mr. Murphy’s list. Some of these will be in the Young Adult section; some will be in the Adult section; most likely, we will create a cart with the biographies you’ll need so everything is in one place, because Miss Kate is nice like that.
In addition to reading a biography, you will need to two other book sources. Because we are a small library, we have a small nonfiction collection, which means we might not have two additional books that cover your subject. This is why it’s very important not to procrastinate. Miss Kate, Miss Patti, and the other librarians are happy to help you find additional books at other libraries that you can use for your project; then you can have them shipped to Demarest, which usually takes about a week. We recommend checking out several books so that you can take them home and examine them more closely to determine if they have the information you need.
How to Use Additional Books for Your Project
The books you use in addition to a biography will most likely not be exclusively about your subject. Reading the entire book cover-to-cover will not necessarily be the best use of your research time. That’s why we recommend using the index you will find at the back of non-fiction books to locate the specific passages that are relevant to your research.
Research Databases & Magazine and Newspaper ArticlesYou’ll need two other sources to fulfill the five-source requirement. The library can help you with those too. Your library card grants you access to research databases that you can access from home. These databases are full of information that you can’t find through google. The databases we recommend for this project are:
- Gale Biography in Context – this provides detailed biographical articles, magazine and news articles on your subject, and academic journal articles that discuss your subject. These additional articles are a great way to find evidence that demonstrates the way your subject made a contribution to society. You can use this one database to easily find multiple sources.
- Explora Secondary – this is a research database. When you search your subject’s name, you will most likely find a topic overview that includes a brief biography of your subject. You’ll also find anywhere from dozens to thousands of articles from books, magazines, newspapers, and academic journals that mention your subject. Not all of these results will be relevant to your research. Unfortunately, while the quality of information you find in library databases is better than what you find through google, the search algorithm is not. You will have to comb through the results and may need to add additional keywords in order to find relevant resources.
Mr. Murphy also allows you to use one .edu or .gov website. We highly recommend The Library of Congress Digital Collections. It’s a .gov website that archives thousands of papers, photos, audio recordings, and videos relevant to American history. You can find letters written by Abraham Lincoln, sheet music by Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie’s RCA contract, and vastly more.
Of course, another great source of primary source materials is the library itself. Researching an author or poet? We have their writings. Researching an actor? We have their movies. What’s more, we have documentary films on many of the people you will be researching or on the period/topic your person worked in or on. Documentaries can be a good way to demonstrate the impact a person has had on society.
Writing Your Paper
When writing your paper, you will need to write in MLA format. This format is how you will differentiate between information that you found in your research from your own original ideas.
The Purdue OWL guide to MLA is an excellent resource for writing papers in the MLA style. It covers how to make in-text citations (ie, when you reference a source within the body of your research paper) and how to make and format your Works Cited page. It includes a sample Works Cited page and a sample paper written in MLA style with detailed notes on how to format every aspect of your paper. If Mr. Murphy gives you instructions that vary from MLA style, you should follow his instructions, but for everything else, use the Purdue OWL.
The most essential advice we can give you is to keep track of where you found the bits of information you will use to write your paper. Don’t try to go back and add citations after the fact. However, please do not dog-ear, underline, highlight, or any other way permanently alter a library book. (This includes underlining in pencil, even if you erase it.) Post-it tabs are a great way to keep track of important passages, but please remove all your post-its when you are returning your books. If you don’t, the librarians have to. We don’t like doing that. It makes us grumpy. Thank you!