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Navigating Library Research: Unit 1: Get Started

How to Get Started

Welcome! Auraria's librarians hope you enjoy this course. The skills you learn through the following units will help you perform better and more efficient research for your other classes.

Navigating Library Research is designed to be used in two ways. First, if you want to take the entire course, you can do so. Try completing the units in the order in which they are listed. Second, if you would rather only complete certain units, you can do so. Each unit ends with its own activity, so you or your professor can evaluate your understanding.


As you use books, articles, and other materials for courses and share them with classmates, it's important to know a few things about copyright. Fortunately, copyright rules allow most things that students and professors want to do with materials.

What Copyright Means in the U.S.

Copyright laws are different in each country. The U.S. has fairly strict laws, but there are many special provisions for educational use of materials. Authors can also choose to allow more permissive use of their works. Here are a few things you should know:

  • Copyright covers creative intellectual works such as books, articles, emails, and web-based information, photographs, art, graphics, music, and software.
  • No one can claim copyrights to data, common knowledge, works explicitly placed in the public domain, U.S. government documents, or works whose copyright has legally expired.
  • Violation of copyright is constantly being redefined to fit new modes of expression in the 21st century.

How Copyright Works

All intellectual works are automatically copyrighted when created unless it is explicitly noted otherwise. A work need not be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be copyrighted.

Copyright protection does not last forever. For any creation after 1977 copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years before the work automatically becomes a part of the public domain. Older works fall under different rules. 

Copyright applies to the material in online databases the Library purchases. For example, you may not copy an article from a purchased database into an email or the web, or use the materials for commercial gain without permission.

Using Copyrighted Works

To use a copyrighted work for anything other than personal use (one copy, for your use only), you must either have the copyright holder's permission, or you must qualify for a legal exemption such as fair use. Many educational uses do qualify as fair use; other common educational uses may qualify only with explicit permission. The TEACH Act has expanded and explained the materials now usable in the online classroom

Unauthorized Use

If your use does not qualify for a legal exception (such as fair use), you must request the author's permission to use it. Otherwise, you are breaking the law.

One common example of unauthorized use of copyrighted materials is the downloading and sharing of mp3 files for free, without the artist's permission. Recent lawsuits over illegal downloading have made many people aware of this.

Effects of Unauthorized Use

Unauthorized use and distribution of copyrighted materials can deprive creators and publishers of income from their works. This can prevent them from creating more in the future. Respect for the intellectual and creative property of others has always been essential to the mission of higher education. As members of the academic community, we value the free exchange of ideas. Just as we do not tolerate plagiarism, we do not condone the unauthorized use and distribution of intellectual and creative work.

Unauthorized use and distribution of copyrighted works can harm the entire academic community. The university and the library may find it more difficult to negotiate agreements on future purchases. Also, frequent violation of copyright on campus can lead to lawsuits against the university.


Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is one form of academic dishonesty and while precise definitions can vary between academic institutions it is basically claiming, or appearing to claim, another's' work as your own by not acknowledging it. Here is a good general definition of plagiarism from the Council of Writing Program Administrators:

In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source.

Why is Plagiarism Bad?

Plagiarism is a serious offense in American academia, even if it is unintentional. Our academic culture is based on strict rules for giving credit where credit is due. Committing plagiarism can have severe consequences depending on your status and the rules of your institution or company. You could be expelled or fired in addition to losing credibility in your chosen profession.

Three Skills to Develop to Avoid Plagiarism

Know What Plagiarism Is

Take personal responsibility for understanding how your professor, department, school or university defines plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. Gain familiarity with the official concepts of academic honesty because even inadvertent mistakes can be serious.

What you need to cite:

  • another person’s idea, opinion, or theory;
  • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings—any pieces of information—that are not common knowledge;
  • any interpretive display of information such as facts, statistics, graphs, drawings that is unique to an author;
  • quotations of another person’s actual spoken or written words; or
  • paraphrase of another person’s spoken or written words.

You do not need to cite facts that are common knowledge. Common knowledge is information that is so well-known it can be found in many sources. Chemical formulas, math equations, historical dates that are not in dispute are examples. As you progress (continue to read and research) in a field you will be able to tell what is common knowledge amongst your peers.

Develop Good Research Skills and Habits

Assemble your sources, identify the ones you think are the the most helpful, and take good notes. In your notes distinguish between quotes, your paraphrased version of the author's ideas, and your own response to what the author says. 

Tip: Consider using a citation software tool to organize your notes and citations. 

Learn How to Cite

Learn how to cite for your discipline or class. Each discipline has different standards and conventions called citation styles and the rules are printed in style manuals. Each class you take may require that you use a different system. Look to your course syllabus to determine what citation style(s) your professor requires you to use.

Last Words on Plagiarism

When writing remember to:

  • Use quotation markings appropriate to your style and cite the source when you copy exact wording.
  • Paraphrase or use your own words instead of quoting when possible .. even though you still need to give the author credit.
  • Give credit for words and ideas that aren't your own, even if you paraphrase.
  • Consult your professor if you are unsure whether to cite.

Tip: If you find yourself quoting a lot that is a good sign. You are showing your understanding of the ideas presented by others and of the assignment. Do be sure that you have organized your paper around an idea, thesis or point that is your own.