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
Gather Background Information
- The topic is the idea that you are researching.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.