Skip to Main Content

A Guide To...The Research Process

This guide will walk through the stages of conducting college research with information about how library resources can help you in your research.

Choose a Topic

What is Your Research About?

The first step in the research process is to decide what you are researching. For college assignments, sometimes your topic may be assigned and other times you will be able to choose any topic you'd like. You can also find yourself somewhere in the middle, where your professor will give you a broad topic or guideline for a topic and you’ll be able to choose where to focus your attention. This can be a great opportunity to bring in your own passions and interests and connect them to what you’re learning in your classes.

Be Curious!

Research doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) boring. If you choose to research something you're curious about, you might find the research process much more interesting and exciting. Remember, research is about learning something new and making new connections and discoveries. If you're interested in your topic, your audience will be too.

Develop Your Research Question(s)

It can be helpful to think of your topic in terms of a question you want to answer. This can move you towards crafting an argument instead of providing a summary or overview of a topic. Think about where information is missing or where there are gaps in your knowledge. What questions do you have about your topic? If you tell a friend about your topic, what questions do they ask? And remember, your research topic doesn't have to be set in stone before you even start researching. It is there to guide you as you discover sources and information.

Find Background Information

Find Background Information

Once you've chosen a topic and thought of research questions, do some background research here to get a sense of what subjects are associated with your topic. This step can also be done before you form your research questions, since the background information you find may help you identify some questions about the topic. You can use textbooks, encyclopedias, and even web sources like a Google Search or Wikipedia to get an overview of your topic and help identify important information like terminology, names, dates, specific events, and more. These may not be sources you end up citing in your paper, but can give you some background information to narrow down your topic and search terms. 

Databases for Background Research

Below are links to some Library encyclopedias and databases that can help provide an overview of a topic. This is not an exhaustive list - visit our A-Z Databases list and select "Encyclopedias, Dictionaries & More" in the "Database Type" dropdown menu for more.

Identify Keywords

Identify Keywords

Keywords are terms we use when searching for information. Searching in a library database is a little different from how you might be used to searching in a search engine like Google. In a search engine, you can type in entire phrases or questions and the algorithm will be able to parse through that to return the results you want. In a database or library search, you need to be more precise. By choosing your keywords strategically, you can maximize your search to make sure you're getting the information you want.

  1. To identify keywords, start with your research topic or question. What are the key words or phrases in your question that sum up your topic? Write those words down. 
    • Example: What is the impact of social media on teenagerscommunication skills
    • From this research question, the words and phrases "impact," "social media," "teenagers," and "communication skills" are potential keywords.
  2. Now, look at your keywords and think about what other words or phrases can be used to mean the same thing. 
    • For example, "impact" may also be called "effect," "influence," "outcome," or "result." If you're looking at social media, you may decide to include specific social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok.
  3. Think about what narrower or broader terms you can use. 
    • For the term "teenagers," you could also use the terms "youth" or "generation z" if you wanted to be more broad, or "teenage girls," "teenage boys," or "high school students" to get more narrow results.

Keyword Chart