When you have an assignment requiring research, it's helpful to have a plan. Watch our research process video below.
Here are the six steps that the library recommends.
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This video offers steps on how to begin researching for your assignment.
It’s helpful to have a process or checklist to follow when you’re researching. Let’s look at a six-step checklist to take you through the steps. You should keep in mind that in some circumstances you will not do everything on the list, you may not follow the steps in order, and you may have to go through the checklist more than once – and that’s OK. The checklist is a tool to help you stay on track.
Step one is clearly stating your research question. Keep referring to your question as you proceed through the checklist. You might modify your question as you learn more about your topic and gather resources. It might become broader, or more specific. You may need to consult your professor if this happens and you intend to change the focus of your research as a result.
Step two is fully examining your assignment and identifying any requirements or specifications that it provides. What types of resources do you need to use, such as books, peer-reviewed articles, or web resources? How many resources do you need? For example it might require that you use three articles, or at least one web resource. What is the final output or product, for example a video, an essay, a report, or a case study? Be aware that not all assignments will provide all of these details. Make note of the due date so that you can schedule your research, organization, and writing time.
Step three is to define and explore your topic. Use your research question to generate some manageable, focused questions that you will need to address in your research. Use the basic questions – who, what, where, why, when, and how – to help you. Decide what keywords you are going to use in your search.
Step four is to determine the types of information that you need and where you will find it. For example, do you need statistics? Do you need research articles? Do you need images? Where will you find this information? Is it on the web or in one of the library’s databases? Do you need a book to provide a basic introduction to your topic? Should you interview someone knowledgeable about your topic? Now you know what you’re looking for and where you’re going to look and can carry out your search.
Step five is to evaluate what you have found against your research question and assignment. You need to think about relevance, authority, point of view, timeliness, and the context of what you find. Make sure you have all of the details necessary to reference the resources you are using in your final paper or product.
Step six is to begin creating your product or paper. As you go along, document your sources using the citation style required by your professor, such as APA or MLA. You may need to use in-text citation for your sources in addition to creating a reference or works cited list at the end.
Remember, you may need to repeat this entire checklist or repeat a specific step. In real life the research process is rarely neat and tidy.
You can always consult your professor if you have questions. You can also ask library staff to assist you with gathering information and using specific library tools.
Source: © Common Craft, 2018.
At one time or another, most students are asked to write a research paper. Making your paper successful means understanding that writing a paper is more than just an assignment. It’s really a way to practice important skills that you’ll use in the real world.
Let’s start with the big picture. Whether you’re at school or work, your success depends on being able to argue points and influence others. A research paper is how you can practice this skill. You are writing an argument.
Imagine that you’re at work and your goal is to convince your manager you deserve a raise. How you present this argument matters. To get the result you want, you’ll need to support your argument with evidence and consider your manager’s perspective.
To start, you’ll want to search broadly and learn as much about your topic as you can. You could gather and analyze performance reviews, productivity stats and salary history to build your case for earning a raise. You can also look outside the company and include published reports and studies.
This evidence will help you develop your claim or thesis. This is a statement that frames what you expect and why it makes sense. It has two parts, the claim “I deserve a raise” and the evidence that supports it “based on my performance and these reports”. This sets the stage and shows your manager that you’re prepared.
But there’s more. To be successful, you must also anticipate your manager’s perspective and what questions or arguments she may have. Will she challenge any of your points? Will she compare your performance to others on the team? By anticipating her questions and concerns, you can have answers ready and make your case even stronger.
This method of developing an argument can be practiced by writing a research paper. You’ll look at evidence, make a claim based on that evidence and then be prepared to defend your points.
In English class, this may mean reading a passage from a book, like Moby Dick, and noticing evidence of symbolism. Using this information you can develop a claim with evidence about the author’s intentions that you can defend in an argument.
In history class, you may notice a wide variety of global events seem connected by a single theme during World War II. This evidence leads you to develop a claim or thesis that the events are indeed connected and prepare to answer questions that challenge your thesis.
By developing a strong argument, you may be able to influence others to see history or a work of literature from a different perspective.
Research papers take many forms, but at heart, they are all arguments designed to influence others. And earning influence can help you be more successful in the future.
If you think about it, much of the information that goes into a paper or article can be organized into three groups: “common knowledge” “my ideas”, and “other people’s ideas”. By understanding these groups, we can see why citations matter in our work.
Let’s start with common knowledge, which consists of well established and reliable facts. For example, George Washington being the first US president is an established fact found in a variety of reliable sources. A year having 365 days is also considered common knowledge.
Next, let’s consider “my ideas”. This group consists of your personal thoughts, opinions, conclusions, and analysis of your topic. If you are conducting your own original research, it would also fall into this category.
And finally, there are other people’s ideas - and these deserve special care. When we research a topic, we’re likely to find and borrow helpful information and discoveries that came from the work of specific individuals or organizations whose work was published in reputable books, journals, articles and websites.
“Other people’s ideas” also include quotes from other writing that support or debate points that you’re making. A paper or project may include all three types of information.
While common knowledge and your ideas don’t usually need special treatment, when other people’s ideas are included in your paper, readers do need to know. This can be done with citations. Using citations shows you’re responsible. You’ve done the research, given credit to the right people, provided the reader with resources for more learning and avoided plagiarism.
A citation consists of two parts that work together. These are the in-text citation and full citations. Here’s how they work…
When you use someone else’s ideas, the reader needs to know, but adding the required information into the middle of your paper would be annoying and hard to read.
So, we need a quick way to indicate when a section is based on someone else's ideas. This is done with an in-text citation. It’s a brief notification within the body of the text that specific words, ideas, figures, or images were taken from other sources. These point the reader to the second part of a citation--the full citation--which can be found either at end of the paper or at the bottom of the page. This way, the text remains readable and it’s clear when you use other people's’ ideas.
Often, full citations have all the information needed to find the original publication. These include author names, titles of books or journals, publishers, publication dates, page numbers and more.
Let’s look at two common ways to cite your sources in a paper:
Imagine that you use an idea from a book in your paper and need to cite it.
An in-text citation could might include the author’s last name and year published, author’s last name and page number, or simply a number. These connect the reader to the full citation, which may be in a bibliography at the end of the paper, or in a footnote at the bottom of the page.
Using citations is part of being a responsible student and researcher, but it’s also a service to others. They acknowledge the people whose work helped establish what is known about the world and provides a way for your readers to dive even deeper into your subject.
Source: © Common Craft, 2020.
In research, it’s easy to think that more is better. Access to more books, more papers and articles surely leads to better research, right?
The reality is that quality matters more than quantity. Finding the best, most trustworthy sources is the real challenge.
That’s why academic databases matter. These resources make it easier to find the most useful, high quality and relevant information available.
Usually academic databases are accessed through your school’s library and include access to journals, newspapers, magazines, reports, newsletters, images, ebooks, and more.
Using an academic database means you can save time by quickly identifying resources that matter for your research.
The most popular academic databases cover a wide variety of subjects. Others may focus on specific subjects, like science, history, or business. Let’s take a look at how they work.
Once you’ve selected a database that relates to your research, you’ll likely be able to use search to find what you need.
Consider using quotation marks for words that appear together. You can also use synonyms along with the word “Or” to see broader results.
You might see thousands of results, so you’ll need to do some filtering. You may be able to filter the results based on the type of publication, publication date, language and more.
When you find a resource that seems useful, open it and review the title, author, publish date and publisher.
You’ll often see an abstract at the top that summarizes the content of the article and helps you evaluate if it is relevant. The abstract may also help you identify more useful search terms for finding additional resources. The full article may be available by clicking “Full Text”.
The database may also provide a button for creating a citation if you use the resource.
The next time you need to do research, don’t waste time digging through piles of materials to find a few good sources.
Instead, ask your librarian about academic databases and you’ll discover a resource that makes your research more efficient and effective.