Steps of the Research Process
1. Choose a topic
If your assignment allows, choose a topic that interests you. You will enjoy the research and writing process more if you are exploring a topic that you feel passionately about or genuinely want to learn more about. Follow your curiosity!
The video below explains how picking a topic to research... is research itself!
2. Gather background information
You will need to get a well-rounded understanding of your topic before diving into the denser, scholarly material. Good places to gather preliminary research and context of your topic is through encyclopedias, dictionaries, reliable websites, and your textbook. Online encyclopedias can be found in databases such as Credo Reference and Gale Virtual Reference Library. A good practice is to examine the references listed at the end of encyclopedias for further research.
Tip! Be sure to keep good notes and save your sources. Record what information you gather and from where. You will need to cite your sources in your paper.
3. Narrow your topic if needed
Often your first choice in a research topic will be a broad one. An effective research paper needs to be an argument on a topic not too broad and not too narrow. The University of Nevada Las Vegas has a mind mapping tool that can walk you through the steps of narrowing your topic and create concentrated research questions. Mind mapping will help you brainstorm the who, what, and why of your topic.
The video below goes over choosing a "good" topic by narrowing down a broad topic to a topic more appropriate given the scope of a college paper's requirements.
4. Write research question(s)
After you have narrowed your topic and brainstormed different avenues of what your paper could explore through mind mapping, you'll need to create research questions. A research question is the question that your research will be based on and what your paper will be answering. Developing a research question helps you focus your research and your paper. It helps you avoid writing an "all-about" paper. Ultimately, your thesis statement will be the concise answer to your research question(s).
Start asking yourself open-ended "how" and "why" questions about your general topic. Your questions should be appropriately complex and clear. They should not be able to be answered with a "yes" or "no" or easily found facts.
Example of revising an unclear research question:
Unclear: "How can social networking sites fix the damage they have caused?"
Clear: "What actions should social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter take to prevent the spread of false information?"
The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest what kind of harm the sites might have caused. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies sites and the type of harm the sites could be causing. A strong research question should not leave room for ambiguity.
5. Find sources to answer your research question(s)
Now that you have identified the questions that will shape your research, you are ready to find sources to cite in your paper. Use the keywords from your research questions to develop search statements for the library databases. Use Boolean operators (OR, AND, NOT) to connect your keywords in a meaningful way. Don't search the library databases with questions or sentences. Check out this guide on searching like a pro in library databases.
Example search statement:
Facebook AND "fake news"
6. Evaluate your sources
You will find and examine several sources during your research journey. Not all of which are relevant to your research questions. You will need to evaluate what you find in order to filter to the best possible sources to answer your questions.
Use the C.R.A.A.P. Test to evaluate sources.
C.R.A.A.P. stands for:
- Currency - The timeliness of the material.
- Is the source current?
- Has the website been updated recently?
- Relevance - The importance of the information for your needs.
- Is the information relevant to your topic?
- Is the source too basic or too advanced?
- Have you looked at more than one source to make sure this one is appropriate?
- Authority - The source of the information.
- Who is the author/sponsor/publisher/editor?
- Is the URL domain reliable? .edu, .mil, .gov?
- Accuracy - The reliability or truthfulness of the content.
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Does the author cite sources to support claims? Can you verify these sources?
- Has the source been peer-reviewed?
- Purpose - The reason the information exists.
- Are there personal biases in the material?
- What is the purpose of the information? Is the article supposed to be satire? Is it trying to sell you something?
7. Organize Information & Write a Draft
Now it's time to answer your research question(s). Organize your main ideas and support with pre-writing strategies, such as cluster mapping or outlining. After you have organized your thoughts, start writing a draft. Writing tutors can help you organize your thoughts and compose a draft. See our online Writing Help Center for tips on composing an introduction, thesis, conclusion, citations and paper formatting.
8. Revise and Write Final Paper with Citations
Leave yourself enough time to revise and have a writing tutor look over your paper. Be sure you're citing where you are supporting your arguments with outside sources. Failing to cite your sources or copying and pasting someone else's work is plagiarism. Plagiarizing can lead to failing the assignment and possibly more serious consequences. Librarians and writing tutors are great resources to help with citations and formatting your paper correctly.