Getting started with your research project

This page may contain links to non-U.S. government websites. What this means to you »

Need help researching a topic? We can help!

We'll provide a brief, immediate response to ready-reference questions.

Or, for more in-depth research needs we'll prepare a customized bibliography for you spanning a wide variety of media formats. We prepare most of these to send out via email. They'll include items available online as well as citations to others that we may be able to help you obtain via InterLibrary Loan if you are not on the National Emergency Training Center campus. Get results now and check out our list of frequently requested research topics.

Call or write to us and let us know how we can help. Our toll-free number is 800-638-1821. You may also write to us using the USFA online comment form or you can email us at:

Additional navigation for this topic

Navigate This Topic

The research process

Step 1: Clearly define your topic or "information need"

Other things to consider:

Step 2: Collect / find information

Reference tools: there are a wide variety of reference tools found in both print and online formats. Often, you'll find some ideally suited for your topic. Reference materials point you to other sources of information.

Encyclopedias, handbooks, codes and guidebooks are among the many resources that fall into this category.

Check out this Guide to Essential Reference Titles for the Fire Service (PDF 119 Kb)

Books: try searching the Library Catalog. Go to the General Keyword search link, enter your term(s) and choose Books from the Document Types drop-down menu.

You can also try browsing our stacks. You'll find our fire science related books organized in general terms as follows:

Periodical Literature: Journals, newsletters, and magazines are all valuable sources of information. The Library's catalog is a unique guide to this periodical literature with citations on fire, emergency response, natural disaster, and homeland security topics going back to the early 1970s. Library staff index nearly 5,000 newly published articles each year, from scores of professional journals, magazines and newsletters across the country and internationally. Try using the Library catalog and limit your search this time to Journal Articles. Any citations you find will be available at the NETC library. Alternatively you can take any citations you find to your nearest public library and they can help you obtain the materials either thru their own print or electronic holdings or via interlibrary loan.

Reports, dissertations, proceedings: can be found in a wide variety of formats, including print and electronic. Our Search Fulltext Items Page is a great place to begin searching for government documents and reports from think tanks and professional organizations of all kinds as well as papers already published by students in the Executive Fire Officer program. Searching from this page will return just items that are freely available to download or read online.

You may also want to go back to the General Keyword Search page and limit your results by type for reports, dissertations, proceedings and other materials not available in fulltext.

The Internet: You can find some great information on the Internet, but you must always carefully evaluate the web pages you find. Educational sites (.edu), US Government sites (.gov) are often reliable sources for information. Search engines like Google's Government Search or the Library's Google Custom Search Engine.

Step 3: Evaluate your information

The following are the 5 evaluation criteria used in evaluating sources.

Who is responsible for the work, and what are their credentials
Does the information seem accurate?
Is the information up-to-date?
Is the information complete or is it just a summary of another work? Information Level? Intended Audience?
Does the information source answer your questions?

Step 4: Use and/or Do Something With the Information

Write the paper or give the presentation. Organize your Information - using an outline is always a good idea. Download the NETC Library Writing Guide (PDF, 15 Kb) for an easy to use template on drafting an essay.

Step 5: Use the information ethically and legally – cite your sources

A citation is a reference to an exact Information Source where the author got his/her info. Cite your sources to:

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged inclusion, in work submitted for credit, of someone else’s words, ideas, or data. The failure to identify any source, published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted from which information, terms, phrases, or concepts have been taken, constitutes plagiarism.

Citations contain the following minimum information:

Sample book citation for a reference list in APA format:

Taylor, M. A. (2008). Jumping fire: A smokejumper's memoir of fighting wildfire. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.

Sample journal article citation for a reference list in APA format:

Castagna, J. (2008). Wildfire maps aid FEMA mission. Fire Engineering, 161(5), 123.

Related content