The Research Process in 8 Simple Steps

Donald R. Welter Library

The Research Process in 8 Simple Steps

The following steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the library, you may need to rearrange or recycle these steps. Adapt this outline to your needs.

If at any point you get stuck, contact the reference librarian:

phone: (860) 215-9052

Step 1: Select a Topic

Select a topic that is interesting to you. State your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about the practice of euthanasia, you might pose the question, “Is euthanasia to relieve suffering morally acceptable?” Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. These ideas/concepts will be your search terms.

Step 2: Find Background Information

A Reference Source is a book or database that gives brief information or an introduction to a topic. There are many types of reference sources, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, directories and sources for statistics. Increasingly, many of these sources may be found online. Be sure to visit the library’s website for course-specific guides.

Step 3: Use the Online Catalog to Find Books

Books are a great source for background reading or historical information. Because of their length, topics can be explored in more depth.

The catalog can be accessed wherever there is an internet connection: Search4It Library Catalog.

Step 4: Find Magazine Articles

Books often do not contain the most recent information. If you a researching a current topic, magazine or journal articles are a good source of information. Articles can be found in indexes, which may be in paper or electronic format. An electronic database is a tool used for finding information on recent topics. All indexes, both electronic and paper, have a specific focus and a specific range of years which they cover. You must be aware of a database’s focus in order to search for a topic effectively. Databases can be accessed wherever there is an internet connection.

Some useful general databases are:

Academic Search Premier
Opposing ViewPoints in Context
Nexis Uni

Step 5: Find Newspaper Articles

To access the most recent day-to-day events, newspapers are an excellent source of information. In addition to print subscriptions, the library also provides access to several electronic databases that index newspapers. Newspaper databases include:

ProQuest Newspapers
Nexis Uni
Newspaper Source Plus

Step 6: Find Internet Resources

The Internet is a vast resource for information. It is self publishing, meaning anyone can (and often does) post a website. Different sites exist to inform, sell, advertise, persuade, entertain and report research. It is up to you to decide if the information is reliable.

Step 7: Evaluate What You Find

Students must learn to evaluate the various sources of information which they find, including books, journals and websites. Authors of scholarly articles are experts in their field of study and generally write articles in one subject area. The authors at Time Magazine write a variety of articles on various subjects. One week they may write an article on AIDS, the next week an article on United States foreign policy. These writers are not usually experts in a particular subject. The Internet is not always reliable, as there is no editorial control such as we find with books or journals. Special care should be taken when using the Internet for research purposes, as there are many web sites of questionable value.

Critical Evaluation of Resources

Step 8: Cite What You Find

A citation is a reference to an item from which a quotation or information was taken or to which a person is being directed. It includes enough information to locate the original item. For example: a book citation would include author, title, place of publication, publisher and date of publication; an article citation would include author, title, name of periodical, date, and page reference. Citations are generally listed at the end of a research paper.

For help with citations, use the appropriate guide:

The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is often used in the Humanities (English, Theater, Art, Music, etc.).

The American Psychological Association (APA) style is recommended in the social sciences (history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, human services, etc.).