Research Process

Guide to the research process.

Understanding Your Assignment

The first step in the research process is to closely examine your assignment to determine what your professor is looking for and what guidelines he/she has given you for the assignment. You should look for:

  • Topic: Has the professor given you a specific topic to write about, or can you select a subject that you are interested in within the scope of the course?
  • Type of Research: Does the assignment require secondary research (the interpretation of research that has been previously published in books or journal articles) or does it involve original research (such as a survey or experiment you must conduct)?
  • Scope: Does your professor want you to analyze a topic from different viewpoints, or do you need to take one position and defend it?
  • Sources: Are you required to use a certain number and/or type or sources (books, popular articles, newspapers, scholarly articles, internet) in your research?
  • Length: Has the professor set a page or word limit on the paper, or time limit on an oral presentation?
  • Format: Has the professor given any guidelines regarding the layout of the paper, such as line spacing or use of page numbers?
  • Citation style: Has the professor specified a citation style for you to use in citing your sources? If not, which style is appropriate for your subject?
  • Due date: When is your paper due? Do you have enough time to obtain all the materials you will need?

Questions to Consider in Selecting a Topic

Choosing a topic that interests you is an important element of the research process. Once you have a general topic you need to consider some additional questions to narrow down a topic to a workable question to be answered in your research.

  • What are some of the major themes covered in the course?
  • Has something in a reading or textbook intrigued me?
  • What do I know about my topic?
  • What are some possible ideas about my topic that I am interested in?
  • Is there a question about my topic I want to answer?

Start with Background Information

Like the foundation of a house, background information is an important support for starting your research by establishing facts and existing perspectives on your topic. Before you start building a paper, you should have an understanding of your topic, such as basic facts like dates and people, important data, and definitions of terms.  

Background information can:  

  • help you define your topic and make sure there is enough information to explore
  • give you the language and facts to understand later research such as key concepts, important terminology, notable people, and big events 
  • help you understand current conversations and contextualize your topic  
  • introduce you to more specific research questions to help narrow your topic 
  • provide keywords to use for deeper searching and highlight potential resources to use in the research process 

Library Background Sources