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Research Process

A general guide through the process of writing a researched paper or putting together a project that involves background research.

Refine the Topic

Review related literature to help refine how you will approach focusing on the topic and finding a way to analyze it. 

  • Read through background information from materials listed in your course syllabus;
  • Search Discover and the Library Catalog  to find a recent book on the topic and, if appropriate, more specialized works about the topic;
  • Conduct a preliminary review of the research literature using multidisciplinary library databases such as Academic Search Complete or subject-specific databases.
  • You may need to conduct several searches using related terms, different limiters, or different databases to find a number of relevant sources.
  • Review the references cited by the authors in footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography to help locate additional research on the topic. If you’re having trouble at this point locating related research literature, ask a librarian for help!

After conducting an initial search in one or more of the library's databases:

  • Look at the subject terms or descriptors that are used for articles that appear relevant. Try other searches using those terms.
  • Break your topic into key concepts and identify terms for each concept. Start with fewer words. Less yields more.
  • Don't be too narrow in your search, especially initially. 
  • Consider what type of information you need and where you might find it.
  • Think about which individuals or groups of people or organizations are associated with your topic. These might be additional terms to search.
  • Consult a librarian or your faculty member for additional related terms, where to locate various types of information, how to modify your search, factors to consider in evaluating resources, and more!

Look for sources that can help broaden, modify, or strengthen your initial thoughts and arguments. There are least four appropriate roles your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis:

  • Sources of criticism -- Use a source is to describe the counter-argument, provide evidence from your review of the literature as to why the prevailing argument is unsatisfactory, and to discuss how your own view is more appropriate based upon your interpretation of the evidence.
  • Sources of new ideas -- It is certainly acceptable [and often encouraged] to read the literature and extend, modify, and refine your own position in light of the ideas proposed by others. Remember cite your sources.
  • Sources for historical context -- This can help to demonstrate familiarity with developments in relevant scholarship about your topic, provide a means of comparing historical versus contemporary issues and events, and identifying key people, places, and things that had an important role related to the research problem.
  • Sources of interdisciplinary insight -- An advantage of using databases like Academic Search Complete to begin exploring your topic is that it covers publications from a variety of different disciplines. If the topic concerns immigration reform, for example, ask yourself, how do studies from business journals found by searching Academic Search Complete vary in their analysis from those in law journals. 

If you have consulted a librarian, you've exhausted the library databases, and you have found an article from a journal that's particularly helpful, put quotes around the title of the article and paste it into Google Scholar. If the article record appears, look for a "cited by" reference followed by a number. This is a strategy for looking forward into the literature for related research studies.