Good planning can result in successful research. While many of us are accustomed to quickly entering our search terms into Google or another favorite search engine, a search in an academic database or EGCC’s Gateway Search will be more successful with a little bit of planning. While this may sound a bit daunting, planning for your research project is not unlike planning for a new project or purchase in the home.
Library research can be broken down into the following components.
These are the five basic steps in the research process. For a more in-depth explanation and video tutorial of each step please continue reading.
The first step in any research project is to identify what information you need. Often, the information you need may be outlined in the assignment or project instructions. However, in open ended projects where you choose the topic, you will first need to identify and then develop a researchable topic.
One way to develop your topic is to frame it in the form of one or more questions that you will seek to answer. These questions will in turn guide you in your information search.
Tip: Look for the key words and concepts in these questions. These words are a great starting place for your information search. As you work with your question(s) over the next few steps pay attention to any new terminology or key concepts that you come across. Don’t be afraid to refine your question(s) by using synonyms or key terminology that you discover along the way.
(Sometimes chosen topics are not suitable research topics, in these cases it may be necessary to choose a new topic. When this happens don’t hesitate to reach out to your professor or a Librarian for help.)
Once you identify your potential topic you will want to gather some background information. One way to do this is to look up your topic in an encyclopedia (both general and subject-specific) or to use a Research Starter from our Gateway Search.
Tip: Sometimes, attitudes toward topics change over time, in these cases you will want to have a better historical understanding of your topic. If your topic is one of these, consider reading information sources that were contemporary to each of those attitudes.
Once you have completed steps 1 & 2 it is time to focus your research. At this point in your search you will want to gather current information on your topic. One of the best ways to do this is to search for information in periodicals, journals and trade publications relevant to your topic.
Tip: Use the database’s built in filters to limit your search results, these can often be found on either side of the search results.
When conducting research on the open web only use information from quality websites where authorship, credibility and accuracy can be verified. Remember you can ask us for help if you are having difficulty finding information for your topic.
Tip: Professional and Trade association websites often post the work of their members and can be valuable sources of current information.
By the time you get to Step 3 you will begin to realize that you need to be organizing the information that you have found. To do this I encourage people to create a folder in our databases, this will allow you to save your searches and articles within the database. You can also use free programs like Zotero (https://www.zotero.org/) to save and organize your research as well as to help properly cite your work.
Once you have collected your resources you should evaluate them before using their information. Some people do this step as they go along, others collect a number of sources first and then evaluate, either way is fine, just don’t forget to evaluate your sources!
Evaluating your sources is one of the most important steps in the research process. Using bad information can be both embarrassing and costly. In the workplace, bad information cause harm, damage, or even cost you your job.
Technology has greatly increased our ability to access and use information. However, just because we can freely access information doesn’t mean that it doesn’t belong to someone else. Be sure that you are able to legally and ethically use the information that you have found. When you do use an information source be sure to cite the source even if you do not quote directly from it. Remember, if you have questions about citing a source, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your professor, the library, or even the writing center.