Research Process

The research process is a step-by-step process of developing a research paper. As you progress from one step to the next, it is commonly necessary to backup, revise, add additional material or even change your topic completely. This will depend on what you discover during your research. There are many reasons for adjusting your plan. For example, you may find that your topic is too broad and needs to be narrowed, sufficient information resources may not be available, what you learn may not support your thesis, or the size of the project does not fit the requirements.

The research process itself involves identifying, locating, assessing, analyzing, and then developing and expressing your ideas. These are the same skills you will need outside the academic world when you write a report or proposal for your boss.

Secondary sources are usually studies by other researchers. They describe, analyze, and/or evaluate information found in primary sources. By repackaging information, secondary sources make information more accessible. A few examples of secondary sources are books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, periodical indexes, etc.

Primary sources are original works. These sources represent original thinking, report on discoveries, or share new information. Usually these represent the first formal appearance of original research. Primary sources include statistical data, manuscripts, surveys, speeches, biographies/autobiographies, diaries, oral histories, interviews, works or art and literature, research reports, government documents, computer programs, original documents(birth certificates, trial transcripts...) etc.

Before you begin any project, it is essential to have a plan. Whether your project is a two page paper or a literature review, a research plan will help. Developing a plan will save time, stress and in the final analysis, yield a superior product.

  1. Define your topic
    For topic ideas try the following:
    • Browse current/hot topics sites, such as CQ-Researcher & TopicSearch
    • Browse current interest magazines or newspapers for stories of interest
    • Browse encyclopedias or other reference books
    • Browse "10,000 Ideas for Term Papers, Projects, Reports and Speeches" (Ready Ref LB1047.3 L35 1998)
    • Listen to radio or television programs
    • Talk to people, such as teachers, friends

    One way to define your topic is to select a broad topic, then identify one or more sub topics you might like to explore.

    • Broad topic: ______________________________
      • Sub topic: ___________________________
      • Sub topic: ___________________________
      • Sub topic: ___________________________

    Another approach is to select a topic, then list possible questions, such as...

    • Who?
    • What?
    • Where?
    • When?
    • Why?
    • How?
  2. Write a thesis or problem statement: Begin with a question, research the topic further, then develop an opinion.
  3. Make an outline. Even a quick one will help organize your thoughts and keep your research and your topic focused.
  4. Develop a Search Strategy.

    Make a list of subjects or keywords that might be useful in your search. Consider synonyms, such as hare and rabbit, or dog and canine. Alternate spellings are also common, try variations such as Athabascan, Athabaskan, Athapascan, or Athapaskan.

    Consider what the best sources for information you need might be. What type of information will you need? For tips on locating relevant sources see Library Search Strategy.

    • books
    • periodicals
    • newspapers
    • government documents
    • biographical sources
    • videos
    • reference books: almanacs, etc.
    • people (experts)
    • archives/special collections
    • Internet sources
    • other?

    Consider where you would look for the sources you have selected:

    • The UAF Library Catalog or WorldCat
    • General periodical and newspaper indexes
    • Alaska Periodical Index or other specialized periodical indexes
    • Archives - finding aids, assistance from archives staff
    • Expert knowledge (professionals, scientists, elders, etc.)
    • Call agency/association
    • Other?

    Always gather more information/citations than you think you might need.Some items might be missing, checked out, not owned by the library, etc.

    • If you get stumped ask for help at the Reference Desk, ask a friend, or send your instructor an e-mail.
    • Remember the 15 minute rule -- if you've spent 15 minutes trying to figure something out in your research activities, ask for help.
    • When searching online databases -- read the screens carefully and remember that it takes the same amount of time to find an article that is 1/8 of a page long as one that is 10 pages long -- use your time wisely. It may be that a smaller article gives you exactly the information you need, but if you're looking for extensive information, the longer article or the book will likely go into more depth on the topic, AND lead you to additional resources through its bibliographies. Take time to read the HELP or HOW TO SEARCH screens. Take advantage of Boolean searching and other searching tips to refine and improve the accuracy of your search.
    • If you think you'll need assistance in your research try to use the library during times when there is a reference librarian at the Reference Desk.
  5. Evaluate your sources. Examine your citations and read the information contained in the articles, documents, books, etc. Consider their authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage, to see if they are appropriate for your topic.
  6. Take careful notes. To save time, gather complete information the first time.

    Document your sources carefully and take notes (with page numbers).If you do have to refer back to the source, it will save time if this information is readily available and you will need it for your bibliography or "works cited" list. For each source that you find, gather the following information:

     

    For Books: Required citation elements are indicated in bold

    • Author:
    • Title:
    • Publisher (location, name, date):
    • Helpful information to relocate material, if necessary (optional):
    • Page numbers:
    • Call number (if any):
    • Subject you searched:
    • Persistent Link for electronic resources:

    For Articles: Required citation elements are indicated in bold

    • Article title:
    • Author's name (if any):
    • Title of periodical:
    • Volume & Issue number (if any):
    • Page numbers:
    • Date:
    • Helpful information to relocate material, if necessary (optional):
    • Call number of journal (if any):
    • Index searched:
    • Subject searched:
    • Persistent Link for electronic resources:
  7. Writing and revising the paper. Allow plenty of time for the writing process. Your thesis and/or outline may need to be revised to reflect what was discovered during your research.

  8. Document your sources. Give credit for the intellectual work of others. Many citation style guides are available in print and via the Internet. If you are not sure which citation style is appropriate for your project/paper, check with your instructor.

Additional Resources:

  • If you would like additional information/help on the research process or writing research papers visit the UAF Writing Center located in 801 Gruening.
  • Writer's Handbook - a handy reference for academic writing available via the Internet.

Index Terms: