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Research Process: Steps to Doing Research

Step One

Step 1:  Identify and Develop a Topic


  • Topic=  Broadly defined Subject area
  • Research Question=narrower focus of the topic
    • Why are you researching?
    • What do you want to know about the topic?
  • Choose a topic that interests you

Step Two

Step 2:  Develop an Overview of the Topic

  • Do background research on the topic
    • find out what you can about your topic.
    • Do background research on the different parts of your research question
  • Useful sources for finding background information
    • BOOKS—look at table of contents and index
  • Know what you are looking for first!
  • Going to a search engine, library catalog, or database and simply typing in words for inspiration will lead quickly to frustration
  • Typing in your entire question almost never works.

Research Question

Using Search Terms in a database

Most databases have Boolean searching built into searching, as is shown in this EBSCO database above.

Step Three

Step 3:  Locate Materials

  • Books: Use mainly for background information, history, overviews of a topic
    • What to Search: Use your broader search terms (topic keywords) to search catalogs for books
    • Where to Search:  Library Catalog, (select Search Books and Media tab over the search box on the library main page). Also search Worldcat (to find other books that  the West Library doesn't have)
  • Journal Article:Use for in-depth topic research, and experimental results
    • What to Search: Use the keywords you selected from your research question or other terms that you identified from steps 1 and 2
    • Where to Search:  EBSCO Discovery Service, individual Journal databases
  • Web Pages: Varied--Everything from scholarly level research to pop-culture pages
    • What to search: Use the keywords that you developed in steps 1 and 2
    • Where to search:  Google,, other search engines

Step Four:

​        Step 4:  Frustration

  • Are you getting way too many results, none of which look like they could answer your question?  Your search is too BROAD. Try to pick more specific or clearer terms.
  • Are you not getting any results?  Your search is too narrow. Try using a broader term, or try to research each aspect of your research question separately. You may need to discuss the research question with your professor to decide ways to make it a broader search.
  • Are you only finding materials that the library doesn't have? Then request an interlibrary loan of ask a librarian for help with your search.
  • Try to look through the Works Cited pages in your textbook to get ideas of where the authors did their research, the terms they used, and topics/research questions that are common in your field.

Step Five

       Step 5:  Re-search

  • Evaluate what you already have and what you still need (evaluate for completeness)
  • Fill in gaps in your research
  • This is mostly a step to lookup little facts, statistics, or definitions to properly answer your research question

Step Six

​      Step 6:  Synthesize

  • Extract the useful information from your sources that you have gathered, and determine how it will be used in your paper, evaluate for content
  • This is the step in which you write your paper
  • You get help with the writing process from your professor or from the Academic Success Center, located on the first floor of the library

Step Seven

​     Step 7:  Cite your work

  • Keep citation notes throughout your research to make this step easier
  • For every source that you find, get as much of the following information that you can:
    • ​Author's names
    • Publication date or last updated date
    • Title of article, Title of Journal, title of magazine, web page or book
    • Volume and issue (for periodicals)
    • Publication information: publisher name and city, for books; database name for periodicals
    • URL (For web pages); DOI (for periodicals) and Date accessed  (for anything online)
  • Include only information you cite in your paper in your Works Cited page
  • Indicate in the text of your paper when you are citing another author, even if it is not a direct quote. Cite quotes, ideas, statistics, summaries, paraphrasing, and facts that are not commonly known
  • Use the citation style required by your professor. Style manuals are available in the Reference Collection of the library and on the library's web page.