Starting Your Research
These steps will help you to complete scholarly, college-level research for class papers and projects. If you need help or get stuck, please contact the Giovale Library.
Develop a Topic and Perform Background Research
The first step of the research process will be to thoroughly read the assignment from your professor to make sure the topic fits within the parameters. You should also try choosing something that interests you, or a subject about which you have questions.
Try these activities and exercises to begin brainstorm:
- Create a mind map
- Make a list of questions about your topic
When you have a general topic in mind, you might need to perform background research. Background research involves consulting sources that help you learn more about a topic, but that you wouldn’t necessarily cite in a final paper, like Wikipedia.
These are resources to explore background information about your topic:
Perform a Search
When using library databases, like GriffinSearch or most of the tools listed in the library’s databases list, you’ll want to plan your search using specific search terms. Rather than typing a question or phrase into the search box, pick 1 or 2 keywords.
Most databases have filters that can help you narrow your results by date, source type, subject, and more.
These videos can help you select keywords and start your search in GriffinSearch:
Google Scholar is another great resource for scholarly articles, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. Unlike the databases you access through the library, anyone can search Google Scholar and read articles. Some articles will be freely available or in preprint format, and some will not be available due to copyright rules. You can connect Google Scholar with the library’s credentials to access full-text articles.
It's important to evaluate the sources you plan to use in your research for accuracy, context, and relevance to your research question. For example, a source from the 1600s about epidemiology may not provide accurate medical information for a paper about communicable diseases. However, it could be helpful source if you were writing about the history of communicable diseases.
When evaluating sources, ask yourself:
- What is the purpose of this source?
- Who was responsible for creating this source, including the author, publisher, sponsors, etc.?
- Who would benefit from me believing or agreeing with this source?
Use Your Sources
Once you’ve started to gather sources on your topic, we recommend reading through scholarly articles and taking notes. As you’re reading, focus on the main ideas of each source. What do they contribute to your understanding of your topic? How are they similar to or different from each other? Make connections between sources and focus on your thoughts and ideas about how these sources can help to answer your research questions. This is called synthesis. A synthesis matrix can help you organize your thoughts and find connections between sources.
Cite Your Sources
Properly citing your sources shows that you’ve done research to become knowledgeable about your topic and helps you avoid plagiarism. Citation resources will help you learn how to correctly cite sources based on style. If you need additional help with citing sources after reviewing these resources, schedule an appointment with a Writing Center consultant.
If you are doing advanced research (a capstone, thesis, or graduate-level project), you may also want to consider downloading a citation manager to organize your sources, like Zotero.
Additional Helpful Resources
- Giovale Library YouTube Channel: Check out the library's instructional videos for research tips and tricks
- Writing Center: Get individualized help with every stage of the writing process, including editing and citations
- Research Guides: When doing advanced research in a discipline, use research guides to learn more about the most-used research tools for your subject
- Research Help: Remember, you can always ask a librarian for help with your research