Step 1: Gather and Hone Ideas
This step starts with curiosity. What would you like to learn more about? If you are assigned a topic, what does it make you think of? What aspect of that topic would you like to explore more deeply?
Create a MIND MAP
- In a Mind Map, you explore your topic and write down what you already know, things that are related to your topic, areas that are unknown. It might look something like the image below or a flowchart or web. If you'd like more guidance in making a mind map, this video from UCLA library goes through each step: Mapping Your Research Ideas.
Gather Background Information
Search and read about your topic before you officially start to research. If you don't know much about your research topic, now is the moment to read encyclopedia entries, browse around Google, or even look at Wikipedia. It's hard to conduct research until you have a basic grasp of your topic, at the very least.
Develop a Focused RESEARCH QUESTION
If you have flexibility in designing your research question, design a question that is answerable but not simply a matter of discovering a few facts. A good research question can be answered in multiple ways. Be sure to choose something that interests you--you'll be working with this topic for some time.
Here is a short PDF guide on narrowing your research question, from the University of Indiana: Narrowing a Topic and Developing a Research Question
Here is a worksheet you can use to refine your research guide, from the Empire State Information Skills Benchmarks: Refining Research Questions Worksheet
Step 2: Develop a Research Plan
This step sets the groundwork for successful and flexible research. Plan where and how you will search--with room for making changes along the way. This helps avoid feeling frustrated when finding too few or too many sources.
Having a robust list of keywords and phrases (search terms) will make your research process go more smoothly. Use the video below as a guide to generating a list of keywords.
Make your own copy of this Google Doc and use it to record your list of keywords: Generating Keywords Worksheet.
Concepts inspired by a guide made by Loyola Marymount University William H. Hannon Library resources.
Select Useful Databases and Resources
Different resources are helpful for different projects. Consider if you need primary, secondary or tertiary sources, images, or periodicals. (This page from the University of Utah helps define the difference between them: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources). Do you need academic sources or journalistic sources, written for a broad readership? Does your project require sources with recent publication dates? Visit the chart linked below to help plan which databases and resources will be most helpful: Database Comparison Chart.
Step 3: Search Flexibly
In this step you finally put your plan into action and USE your list of keywords, in different combinations. You often need to refine your search to focus your search results.
Use Quotation Marks
Use quotation marks around groups of words or phrases that must appear consecutively in your search results.
Use Boolean Operators
Use Boolean Operators (AND, NOT, OR) to expand or refine your search results.
Boolean Operators: Pirates vs. Ninjas
Refining Your Search: Filtering Tools
Use the video below to give you some suggestions on refining your search using our databases filtering tools.
Refining Your Search: Keyword Combination and Selection
Use the video below to give you some suggestions on refining your search by using the most relevant keywords in logical combination.
Video coming soon!
Step 4: Evaluate Sources
and Take Notes
In this step you consider the reliability and value of your sources. Once you find the sources you need, read and take notes on the most helpful information.
It's important to carefully evaluate what you find before determining that it is a reliable source. We should think critically about ALL information we find--even that in books or in peer-reviewed journals! Arguably, every text has some sort of bias, so it's helpful to identify possible bias in your sources.
This printable and downloadable worksheet helps you evaluate sources using the CRAAP acronym (looking at Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose). CRAAP Test Worksheet
Taking notes while you read your sources is an important way to keep track of your questions, thoughts and reactions. Often we are searching for evidence to support a claim, but if our notes are not organized, it can be hard to find that vital evidence later!
Use these resources on our Taking Notes Resource Page (templates, tips, digital tools) to learn more about taking and organizing notes.
Step 5: Cite Sources
In this step you properly give credit for your sources. Since there are strict guidelines for formatting and punctuation, there is a detailed page of resources to help!
Use this guide to help you accurately cite your sources: Citing Sources Page
What is an annotated bibliography? Gain a basic understanding of an annotated bibliography in this Annotated Bibliography Overview from Columbia College's library in Vancouver, Canada.
Creating an annotated bibliography? Consider visiting our resource guide with sample annotated bibliography entries and rubrics: Annotated Bibliography Resource Guide, also embedded as a PDF below.