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Research 101: Getting Started

Guide to steps in the research process, from selecting a topic through giving appropriate credit for the sources you used for your paper, presentation or project.

The Research Process

The research process typically includes five broad steps. Your assignment may require that you complete all of these steps or only a few.  You should usually plan to complete one step before moving onto the next. However, there may be times when you will need to return to a previous step or complete multiple steps simultaneously.  Research is a dynamic, fluid process so be prepared to be flexible!

Step 1.  Your Topic and Research Question(s)
Select a Topic / Develop Research Questions /| Identify Keywords

Step 2.  Search Strategies
Find Background Information / Refine a Topic / Use Effective Search Strategies

Step 3.  Credible and Relevant Sources
Find Books / Find Popular Articles (Magazines and Newspapers) / Find Scholarly Articles / Find Trade(Professional) Articles / Find Primary Sources /
Find Websites, Videos and Images

Step 4.  Evaluate Information
Evaluate Sources | Primary v Secondary Sources

Step 5.  About Plagiarism
Citation Help / Works Cited Examples

Help Videos

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Understanding Your Assignment

Whether your assignment involves writing a paper, a report, an essay; giving a speech; making a multi-media presentation or another kind of individual or group project, if it requires research, it is vital that you understand all aspects of the assignment before you begin the research process   Often students are tripped up not because the intellectual content of their final product is lacking but because they have missed or incorrectly interpreted information in the assignment prompt.  Even such mundane elements as due dates, formatting instructions, submission instructions, etc can affect grades so be aware of everything being ask of you.  Make sure you understand:

Due Dates:  Consider using an assignment calculator to determine dates by which you should complete various steps in the research and writing process given your starting and due dates.  One of the best known of this type of tool is the University of Michigan's Assignment Calculator.   It includes hints and "how-to" links to additional resources.  If you do not use an online calculator, remember to build in time for problems encountered during the research process-changing or redirecting your topic, getting items through interlibrary loan, technical difficulties, proofing, revisions and rewrites, etc because some instructors are flexible about deadlines, others are not!

Length:  Most instructors have an idea of the number of pages/words it takes to adequately address the assignment they have given you and will not be fooled by wide margins, large fonts, etc.  Make sure you provide a body of text at least meeting the minimum number of pages/words.  The length of the paper usually does not include the cover page or the works cited page. 

Sources:  Make sure you provide the number and type of sources called for-primary, books, articles, websites, scholarly, popular etc.

Language: Keyword prompts that give you a clue as to what you should be doing in your paper-explain, summarize, compare and contrast, assess, justify, analyze, etc.  

Currency Do you need up-to-date sources?  Historical context?

Technical Elements:  Margins, font, paper format, writing style. 

Submission Requirements:  Print copy only?  Paper in a binder or folder? E-mail attachment, disk, etc.

Explore Your Topic

Before beginning in-depth research it might be helpful to do a little initial exploration of your topic just to see what is or is not already out there.  A quick search of the Libraries' catalog or a periodical database will give you an idea of how much has actually been published on your topic.  If you get way too many search results you can begin to think about how to make your search more specific.  If you get too few results, you will need to think of strategies to broaden your search and increase your results. 

Exploring your topic in reference sources can help jump start your research too.  Reference sources are authoritative works that are usually meant to be read for specific answers or information rather than cover-to-cover.  Some of the most common reference sources are dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauri, directories, almanacs, handbooks and bibliographies. 

Reference sources can provide the following about a topic you might be exploring:

  • Background information
  • Brief, factual overviews
  • Information about important dates, events, and people associated with the topic
  • Terminology and definitions of terms
  • Articles written by authors with expertise on your topic
  • A list of further readings you can use as a springboard for your research.

Specialized reference sources can also help you develop your research outline--look at the table of contents headings and subheadings. 

Explore your topic in the following online reference tools and collections.

Reference and Information Services

Debbie Sharp
William T. Young Library
2nd Floor, North Wing
(859) 218-1406