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.Research Introduction: Research Steps

Research Step By Step



This page will teach you how the Library fits into the research process. At each stage of the process there is something the Library can do to assist you. Have a question? You can schedule a research consultation with campus librarian, Mary Jo DeJoice, in person or virtually at either or 304.637.1359.

A. Brainstorming                 D. Search for Sources

B. Preliminary Reading       E. Evaluation of Sources

C. Refining Your Idea           F. Citing Your Resources


A. Brainstorming - Choose A Topic

At the start of your research project, it's ok not to know what your topic will be. That is why you do research – to explore, to see what is already out there and come to your own conclusion. Try to pick something that is interesting to you!

Current news resources will help you with general brainstorming. This will give you an idea of what's trending.

If you have a particular academic field or discipline in mind while brainstorming your topic you can check the current news in that field by looking at the website for a professional association or organization (e.g. American Psychological Association; National Education Association)

Library resources to assist you with brainstorming:

B. Preliminary Reading

Once you have a research topic in mind...

Take time to read about your topic in an encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook. You will probably refine and refocus your topic several times before you finalize it. Reference books are good places to start your research when you know little about a topic, need an overview of a subject, or want a quick summary of basic ideas. They are also useful for discovering the names of important people and can familiarize you with the vocabulary of the field. Specialized encyclopedia articles often conclude with selected bibliographies, useful as you begin looking for additional information on your research topic.

Library resources to assist you:

C. Refining Your Idea - Finalizing Your Topic

When finalizing your research idea - think narrow. It's a myth that choosing a broad topic will be "easier;" really, it can just overwhelm you.

Some questions to ask yourself as you refine (i.e. narrow) your paper topic:

  • Who – population or group (e.g., college students, women, Asian Americans)
  • What – discipline or focus (e.g., sociological or historical perspective)
  • Where – geographic location (e.g., United States, universities, small towns)
  • When – time period or era (19th century, Renaissance, Vietnam War)
  • Why – why is the topic important? (to the class, to the field, or to you)

e.g. Broad Topic: Women and the Olympics; Narrow Topic: Women Olympians should participate in the ski jump.


D. Search For Sources - Building your paper

Once you finalize a topic, it's time to start exploring! Sometimes this can be a frustrating point in the process, because if you don’t find something right away you might start to doubt your choice. Remember that this is the information-gathering stage and it’s all part of the research process.

Are you searching databases and not finding anything? Adjust the keywords you are using.

  • Use synonyms: e.g. Movies, Motion Pictures, Films
  • Be specific: e.g. instead of Olympics, use Winter Olympics, Special Olympics or Summer Olympics
  • Consider the thematic elements of your topic: e.g. in addition to Myth, use hero, legend, journey, etc.

Taking the time to explore your topic will ultimately strengthen your argument. Let's get started, search for ...

Books  &  Articles

E. Evaluation - Using the best resources for your topic.

There are different ways to evaluate sources: evaluating them for quality research, determining whether they are scholarly, peer-reviewed sources or whether they are from popular press. 

Remember the goal is to find the most appropriate sources for your specific research topic.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Does your assignment require you to use scholarly sources?
  • Is the author biased a certain way? Are they a member of a strongly-leaning group or organization?
  • What year was the article or source published? Is it still relevant today?
  • Is the source from a reputable author or publisher? If it's a book, university presses are reputable sources. Do you recognize the author's name? If not, are there credentials (their job title or academic rank) that tell you about the author's expertise?
  • If you are using an open website for research, focus on sites that end in .gov (government sites) or .edu (education sites), sites for professional organizations end .org

F. Citing your resources - Being ethical

Formal college papers are formatted in a precise way. The common formatting styles are APA (American Psychological Association); MLA (Modern Language Association); and the Chicago style. There are hundreds more but these are the top three.

These styles will teach you how to format a paper. They cover every aspect of a research paper, including the bibliography. Your instructor will tell you which style to use for your research paper.

Why create a formatted bibliography? Three reasons:

  1. When you write a formal paper you will be incorporating the ideas of other people into your work. If you use someone's idea you must give them credit.This is the ethical use of information - give credit where credit is due.
  2. You are writing a paper that proves you understand a topic or idea. This includes an understanding of what other people think about your chosen topic. How well do you incorporate these ideas into your research project? One criteria for proving your understanding is by submitting a properly cited paper and bibliography.
  3. You are also learning how to communicate in a professional setting. College students all over the country, who have declared the same major as you, are learning these same skills. For example, if your profession uses the APA format and, after graduation your supervisor hands you a report written in the APA style, you will understand how to present a professional response.

The Library has the current APA, MLA and Chicago style manuals at the Information Desk. For further assistance, check out these links: