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Frequently Asked Questions: Getting Started

Answers to common questions about the library and doing research.

How do I know which kinds of sources to use?

The type of source you use often depends on the type of information you need. A factual-type question might be answered by a reference book, such as an encyclopedia or almanac. In contrast, a large research project might require using article databases to find scholarly journal articles. General collection books on a specific topic may aid in synthesizing material and add context to a subject. Web resources are useful for finding current news information, while print sources may be better for more stable or historical topics. When researching, select a variety of sources to ensure different viewpoints on a topic.

How do I know if a web source is reliable?

Web sources located through a library web site are usually dependable. See our Conditions of Use and Web Links Policy for more information. Information gathered on the Internet, without affiliation with a library or other organization, may not be as controlled, comprehensive, or permanent. However this does not mean you should discount the valuable sources that may be found on the Web.

If you do search the Internet, keep a critical eye on the kinds of sites you are retrieving. See the tutorial Internet Detective for more points to help you evaluate the quality of information on the Web. Evaluation criteria is based on a series of checklists, however in general it is best to apply a holistic approach to thinking critically about each source you use.

See the Online Reference page for a list of starting points for doing research on the Internet. My professor said "don't use the Web." Why? also contains more information on assignments which focus on printed library resources.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is presenting another person's words or ideas as your own. In academic writing, any time you use a work's information or ideas, credit must be given to your source. The only exception to this rule is that commonly known facts do not require attribution.

Plagiarism includes not only the presentation of other's original ideas as your own, but the act of weakly paraphrasing another's writing style and passing it off as your own prose.

Plagiarism is a serious instance of misconduct. Several professional careers have been ruined by the discovery of an act of plagiarism.

As a general rule and whenever in doubt, it is always better to include a citation rather than risk the appearance of plagiarism. Please see the UWM Libraries guide Citation Styles for more information on plagiarism.

How do I format a bibliography?

The easiest way to format a bibliography is to use RefWorks, our Web-based citation manager. You can export references from searches so that your citations are saved to your RefWorks account, and automatically generate a formatted bibliography in your chosen citation style. See the RefWorks Guide for more information.

Our Citation Styles Guide contains more information on formatting bibliographies.