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Lehigh University Libraries - Library Guides

Writing papers for 1st and 2nd year undergrads (Science, Math, Psyc)

Getting Started

Email the science librarian with any questions about this guide.


  • Read the assignment closely. Are you expected to summarize literature, or does the professor want you to defend your own viewpoint? How many papers or items do you need to find? What citation style do you need to use? Ask the professor if you have any questions!
  • If the paper assignment gives you leeway in selecting a topic, think of a topic that is really interesting to you and that will keep you interested in writing. The key point at this stage is however just to focus on finding some candidate topics for your research, nothing more. Write down several possible topics.
  • Develop a conceptual map of your topic by looking at background information sources.
  • Finding a focused scholarly debate enables you to write a paper that shows you know arguments and counter-arguments and lets you stake a position and show your professor that you know the counterarguments to your thesis. Earn the right, through research, to defend the thesis in your paper.  

Finding a Topic


The web 

A good place to check, but not all information on the web is equally valuable. Wikipedia (and the references it provides at the bottom of a typcical article) can be valuable, even though you will not typically include it as a resource in the final draft of your paper.  

Library databases

Use library databases below. Put in some keywords and see what comes up. (Later on you will learn how to do more focused searching of these and other databases.) The first two resources have academic as well as popular sources such as magazines and newspapers. The third link consists of newspapers. Important: magazine  and newspaper articles, while popular, can give you ideas for topics for which you can then find scholarly literature.