Research Step I
I. The Pre-Search
Before you begin any research, read your assignment carefully to determine what you are being asked to do.
Are there specific questions in the assignment that you need to answer?
OR is the assignment open-ended so that you need to decide on a topic that interests you and then narrow that down to a specific focus for that topic?
If you don’t yet know what interests you about the topic, go to The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature or to the Student Resource Center available from the library’s web page and look up your topic.
Go to Purdue Owl
Purdue online writing lab, click on research overview “Where do I Begin”.
Online Writing Lab: Sources
Make sure you are on the Subject Search screen. Then type in the topic you want to explore. Look through the results for the topic and its subdivisions.
If a subdivision catches your interest, scan some of the full-text magazine articles under that subdivision. When you think you’ve found a focus that interests you for the topic, you’re ready for the next step in the process.
Research Step II
II. Form Your Research Question
If your assignment states the questions you need to answer, then this step is complete and you can go onto the next step. OR more often you will need to formulate your own question.
Try writing several questions beginning with different interrogatives ( how, what, when, where, why) until you come up with the question you think best expresses what you want to know.
As you begin researching your question, you may find that you need or want to modify your question. For example, you may find a more specific focus you want to follow. Perhaps your question is too specific and you can’t find enough information, so you decide to broaden the question. You may want to discuss your question with your teacher or the librarian to be sure it fits the assignment and that you will be able to find enough information to help you answer it.
an article by Jamie McKenzie that talks about the importance of good questions.
Research Step III
III. Identify the Important Concepts within The Question.
1. Underline or circle words and phrases that name or describe key concepts.
2. Consider synonyms and variations of those “key” words and phrases
3. Prepare your search logic
This step is especially important when searching for information in electronic databases and on the World Wide Web. To find “on-target” information, you need to pinpoint the important ideas (along with synonyms and related concepts) in your question.
Questions that begin with how, why, and which usually are complex.
Questions that contain at least two or three different key concepts need to be combined using boolean connectors or some other way of relating the different concepts to each other. Remember to use quotation marks around phrases and truncation where appropriate.
A Search Strategy form can help you nail down the key ideas in your question and which boolean connectors to use with them.
Researching Complex Questions
Search Strategy Form
Research Step IIII
IIII. Locate Useful Information
Use appropriate sources for the kinds of information you need.
Try your search logic statement in electronic resources.
Encyclopedias and other reference material are helpful for overviews of topics and statistical, factual information
Books offer in-depth treatments of topics but may have information that is out-of-date.
Keyword searching in the Student Resource Center, and Opposing Viewpoints databases, and with Internet search engines will usually find information in electronic form that contains your key words and phrases. The more precise your search logic, the more likely it is that the information retrieved will be pertinent to your question. But you need to be flexible and persistent. Sometimes you will need to substitute synonyms or related words for ones that don’t seem to be working.
There is a wide variety of search engines suited for searching for different kinds of information. They may also need you to enter your search terms in specific ways. When you use an unfamiliar search engine, it is a good idea to check its help page to learn how best to enter your search strategy.
Go to Purdue Owl OR
your favorite Search Engine to conduct primary resources.
Try this site to learn more about specialized search engines:
Try this site to learn about new search engines and also more about how different search engines operate:
The Spider’s Apprentice
Use what you have learned so far. When you have a clear research question and a research strategy for it.
Research Step V
V. Evaluate and Select the Best and the Most Relevant Information.
With so much information now available, it is often hard to decide which information is the best in both quality and for your purpose.
Particularly when using the Internet, it is important to critically evaluate the information you are considering using. But how do you know what to look for?
As you take notes, be sure to include all necessary citation information in order to credit the people whose ideas and information you plan to include in your final product. In this way you will avoid plagiarism.
Searching in subscription databases on the Internet that includes recognized magazine, journal, and newspaper articles written by established writers and experts is one way to at least establish the source, author, and date of the information.
Search engines will likely locate many web sites containing information on a research topic. But the reliability and accuracy of that information should always be questioned because anyone with space on a web server can post information to the Internet. A critical approach is the best one when evaluating web site information.
Plagiarism is using the thoughts and ideas of others as if they were your own. Students don’t always understand all the forms that plagiarism can take, so it’s important to learn more about it because its consequences can be serious.
Learn the basics of how to evaluate the accuracy and usefulness of information from the University of Minnesota library or from Purdue Owl: Evaluating Sources.
Become familiar with the specific things to look for when evaluating books, articles, and web sites.
Evaluate the usefulness of articles you located in Step #4 from the Student Resource Center using the guidelines you have learned.
Learn more about evaluating web sites through these links:
Berkeley Library Try the activities using the evaluation worksheet. Use the guidelines you have learned to evaluate the source, accuracy, timeliness, and objectivity of web sites you located in Step IIII.
Plagiarism Prevention for Students will help clarify what plagiarism is and how you can avoid it. OWL, provides explanations and practice in paraphrasing information correctly.
Research Step VI
V. Organize Your Information Into a Useful Form.
Once your research has resulted in your having useful information, you need to organize it in a form that will help you produce the final product whether that be a research paper, video, Powerpoint presentation, website, etc. There are tools to help make this task easier.
Learn about some of these tools by investigating these websites:
More Graphic Organizers