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ENG 100 (online)

A guide set up for remote and distance students.

Research Process

Pictures of circular arrows

Research is not linear.

The process of research gives rise to new ideas or avenues for exploration which constantly informs the analysis and search for information.

  1. Analyze (What do you need to know?  What do you need to find?)
  2. Find the right tools (books, databases, internet)
  3. Search for information
  4. Evaluate what you find
  5. Take notes on your information
  6. Do you have enough to complete the assignment or do you need to find more information?

Research takes time:

  • You will probably need to search more than one tool and try many keywords before you locate useful sources.
  • You may realize you are missing a crucial pieces of information (and have to search again). 
  • You may realize that you want to focus on a different aspect of a topic or your topic is too big/small.

Step 1. Analyze Your Needs

What is the assignment?

  • How long does it need to be?
  • What is the due date?
  • What are the limitations or requirement in terms of sources?

Identify topic and develop thesis if necessary.

  • If you are struggling with a topic, some help is available here.
  • Does your topic require specialized information or vocabulary (i.e. medical or legal terminology)
  • Once you select your topic, many people find it helpful to start asking questions to help identify areas of research:
    • Who, What, Why, Where, and How?
  • Do you need a thesis statement? Consult with your instructor on ways to convert your topic into a thesis.

Is your topic manageable?

  • Select a topic for which you can find a manageable amount of information. Do a preliminary search of information sources to determine whether existing sources will meet your needs.
  • If you find too much information, you may need to narrow your topic.
  • If you find too little, you may need to broaden your topic.

Step 2. Find Your Research Tools

Identify keywords and concepts for your topic

  • Perform a preliminary search using background information sources, Internet Searching, or reviewing your notes/textbook and identify concepts, people, or  keywords to help in your search.
  •  You may need to change or refocus your topic at this stage

Identify the right tools and places to find information

  • Who is interested in your issue or problem? Are they researching or publishing on the issue? Do they have a website?

  • Are there any instructions from your instructor  concerning websites, scholarly journals, etc?

  • Identify the most helpful or likely places to find information:
    • Books:  Books and eBooks can offer in-depth and very particular information about a siubject.  they can also provide an overview of the issue in context or a concise summary of than issue.
    • Encyclopedias:  Reference Materials such as encyclopedias provide background information as well as definitions or an overview.
    • Newspapers:  Offer up to date and local information.  
    • Popular Magazines: Shorter articles written by journalists or reporters usually summarizing or outlining an issue
    • Journal Articles: Written by experts in the field, they can include original research or ideas.  Assumes reader has prior knowledge on a subject. 


Step 3. Search for Information

Where do you find information?

Finding information is not always a problem for researchers.  Finding the right information is.
Use the resources found in the rest of this guide to help you find legitimate and worthwhile sources for your paper.
  • Finding background information with encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc...
  • Find Books, ebooks, and Media
  • Finding articles in Library Databases
  • Other paid Library Resources
  • Using Google Scholar

Step 4. Evaluate your information

As you research and find information, ask yourself:

  • Am I finding enough information?
  • Are my keywords working?
  • Are there aspects of the subject/topic I missed?
  • What other avenues of research do I need to explore?

Stay organized!

  • Identify the resources (and sources)  you want to use for your paper and where you will place them in your paper.
  • Identify successful searches and keyword combinations

Use CRAAP or other method to evaluate your resources

  • There are many different acronyms and methods to help you evaluate resources for your paper.
  • Make sure you are using trustworthy sources.

Step 5. Record your Research

Take Notes!

  • Take notes on what you find
  • Make sure you record where you found the information and what type of note it is: summary, paraphrase, or direct quote.

Stay Organized

  • Keep your notes and sources organized so that when it comes time to write, you will be ready to break down your paper into sections that coincide with your notes.
Note Taking Sheet 

Many people find these sheets a helpful way to take notes and avoid accidental plagiarism

Step 6. Repeat, Revise, Reflect

Are you finished?

  • Did you find all the information you need to write your paper?
  • Did you answer your research question or thesis as assignment dictates?
  • Do you need to find additional sources to satisfy requirements or address additional questions?
If you answer "No" to any of these, then start the research cycle again by analyzing your needs.

Helpful Handouts and Tutorials

Finding a Topic

Finding a topic is one of the most important steps on the research process.  Here are a few pointers and hhelp for finding the right one:

Keywords and Search Strategy

Thesis Help