The Research Process

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The research process is a simple means of effectively locating information for a research project, be it a research paper, an oral presentation, or something else assigned by your professor. Because research is a process, you will need to allow for ample time to refine or change your topic. Be sure to allow a few weeks to have materials delivered from other libraries.

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The steps below provide a simple and effective approach for conducting research for a paper, presentation, or other project that requires you to locate information about a topic. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with library research, you may need to rearrange or recycle these steps. Adapt this outline to your needs:

Step 1 - Choose your topic.
Step 2 -
Find basic information.
Step 3 -
Refine your topic.
Step 4 -
Locate and retrieve materials.
Step 5 -
Evaluate relevancies of materials.
Step 6 -
Take notes.
Step 7 -
Construct your project.

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Select a topic that is of interest to you, or if you have been assigned a topic, select an aspect or perspective of the topic that interests you. If you are having trouble selecting a topic, you may find it useful to browse magazines, journals, newspapers, reference sources, and online databases. Remember, selecting a topic is the most important decision you will make in the research process. Without a topic, you can’t go any further.

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Find basic information on your topic. Select a few key terms from your topic and search for basic information in reference sources such as subject encyclopedias, bibliographies, handbooks, library catalogs, books, online databases, and Internet sources (Web sites). This preliminary search will help you determine how much or how little information is available about your topic.

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Based on the quality and number of items located, you may need to refine your topic. If your initial search renders too little information, try broadening your topic. You can broaden a topic by searching for related concepts/synonyms using different keywords, or by selecting different resources.

If your initial search renders too much information, you will need to narrow your topic. You can narrow your topic by using more specific terms and by examining subject headings in books and/or online databases. Finally, try examining book and article references for additional sources.

If you need assistance with refining your topic, ask a librarian and/or your professor.

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Once you have identified your topic, you can to begin to locate and retrieve information. Before you begin locating information about your topic, you will need to identify what information formats (articles, books, websites, dissertations, etc.,) are needed and select the appropriate research tool(s). The information format is usually determined by the requirements of your research assignment or instructor.

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After locating your information you will need to review them for usefulness and relevency to your topic. A clearly, well-defined topic allows you to quickly eliminate irrelevant information. After your determine the relevancy, you then need to evaluate the quality of your information.

The basic criteria to evaluating information are as follows:

(1) Authority – Who is the author? What are their credentials?

(2) Accuracy – Are the facts verifiable? Is the information correct?

(3) Objectivity – What is the purpose? Is there a bias?

(4) Currency – Is the information up-to-date?

(5) Coverage – What is the scope of the information? What does it focus on?

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Throughout your research process you will need to keep accurate notes of what research tools and search strategies you used–this ensures that you won’t retrieve the same information twice, as well as allowing you to reproduce a particular search if needed. Notate complete citations for all your information even if you are unsure of whether or not you will use the information. Trying to locate the information at a later date may be difficult without a proper citations.

A "complete citation" includes identifying information that allows you to locate information when needed. Some common citations are formatted using the APA and MLA style guidelines.


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Finally you are now ready to start preparing your paper, presentation, or project. You should have enough research materials to support your research topic. Be careful to cite any information that you have "quoted directly" or "paraphrased", this way you can avoid committing plagiarism.

Remember that research is a circular process, you may need to go back and locate additional information that your previous search did not locate. Always give yourself enough time to conduct additional research, if needed.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Last updated: 06/08/2005