Research Process

Guide to the research process.

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Choosing Topic: Recommended Website

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