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MU Home » Academics » Davis Memorial Library » Research Help » Research Guides» The Successful Research Process

The Successful Research Process

Keys to Your Success

  • Research is always a multi-step process.
  • Research is often interdisciplinary.
  • Think broadly about your topic, then narrow and refine the focus.
  • Keep a record of everything you find and where and how you found it, including all publication and citation information.

Steps to Your Success

Identify Your Topic
  • The topic is the idea that you are researching.
    • Example: Gun Control
  • Brainstorm the topic.
  • Think about and visualize your topic from many different angles.
  • Note related and interrelated topics.
  • Note terminology and synonyms that can broaden your searching power.
  • State your topic as a question. Example: Should handguns be banned?
  • Refine the question. Should the United States government restrict who should be allowed to have handguns?
  • Identify key concepts and list synonyms for them.
    • Example:
      • 1. handguns, revolvers, pistols, automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons
      • 2. legislate, restrict, ban, control
      • 3. government, senate, house, president
  • List disciplines or subject areas that relate to part of your research.
    • Example: criminal justice, law, social work, political science
Gather Background Information
  • Get a broad overview of the subject or topic.
  • Use both general and subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries which can be found in the Reference Collection.
  • Get more focused, in-depth, or historical background on the topic.
  • Use books written in the time period and follow up with more recent information.

Focus Your Research

  • Gather up-to-date, current information on the topic.
  • Use appropriate periodical information from popular, trade, and scholarly sources.
  • Use high-quality, appropriate web sites.
  • Gather in-depth, focused information on the topic.
  • Search for research studies, surveys, and experiments about your topic.

Evaluate Your Sources

  • Does the author have authority on the topic?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Is the information accurate for when it was written?
  • Is there a consensus of opinion on this topic? What are the important ideas?
  • What is the purpose of the source? How will it impact your research?
  • Is the purpose to inform, to entertain, to teach, or to influence?
  • Who is the author writing for? Is it biased in any way?
  • Has the author looked at the material objectively?
  • Does the author offer several points of view?
  • How does the source help answer your research question?
  • Does the source provide valuable, relevant information?
  • Does the source answer a part of the total research question?

Adapted from: Teaching Information Literacy. Burkhardt, MacDonald, and Rathemacher. Chicago: ALA, 2003.