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Research Process


Below are two sections: one deals with cultivating the research “mindset,” and the other walks you through seven “tried-and-true” research steps.

Tips for Cultivating the Research “Mindset”

Allow time.

Doing anything well takes it, and sometimes plenty of it. The information world is rich and complex; so don’t expect exploring it to be fast and easy. Avoid frustration by dedicating significant chunks of time to your effort.

Stay organized.

Make sure you keep a record of the complete citation for every item you use or order. Re-constructing a bibliography after the fact is a painful experience. However you organize yourself best (whether in paper or online), give preliminary thought to how to keep track of what you find.

Be persistent.

Good sleuthing takes doggedness. Learn to follow the “Research Trail.” Whenever you find an “on target” article or book, make sure you carefully examine the bibliography at the end of that item. Then work on locating the books and articles that look the most relevant.

Think for yourself.

Sure you need and want to know what others have learned and discovered. But the uniqueness of your ability to synthesize your research, and create your own connections is what will make your paper yours.

Ask for assistance.

It is often a sign of wisdom rather than weakness. Your professor, and the librarians at Tutt Library want you to succeed, and willingly share with you their expertise and experience.

“Tried-and-True” Seven Research Steps

1. Identify and develop your topic.

  • Try to state your topic idea as a question.
  • Identify keywords that can be used to search for information
  • Try to choose a topic that is of a manageable proportion: neither too broad not too narrow. Test your keywords by doing some sample searches in background sources, periodical databases or the TIGER catalog.
    • If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by using the and operator: Japanese children and elementary education
    • If you are finding too little information, you may need to broaden your topic. Link synonymous search terms with the or operator: elementary education or kindergarten or first grade

2. Find background information.

  • Use general and subject encyclopedias to read articles that provide a historical, or conceptual context for your research.
  • Note relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of background articles.

3. Use catalogs to find books.

4. Use indexes to find periodical articles.

  • The library subscribes to numerous online databases. These online indexes help you identify articles on your subject. The database will provide the complete bibliographical citation to the article. Some articles you find using these databases will be full-text, meaning the complete text of the article can be printed immediately. We have a guide to getting started with databases.
  • Some articles are considered “scholarly,” others “popular.” Learn more about the difference between the two.

5. Find other resources.

  • Do you need statistics? Could you use videos or DVDs? Are there primary resources available on your topic? Ask a librarian for help at the Reference Desk.
  • What about the Internet? The Web is a valuable tool, but use the Web judiciously in your research. It is especially useful for policy information and community initiatives. To make the most of your Internet findings, learn how to evaluate Web sources. Do not rely heavily on the Web for scholarly articles – use the Library’s periodical databases instead.

6. Evaluate what you find.

  • Look critically at everything you find. Question the source, the author, and the perspective. Is it published in a scholarly source? Does the author display obvious (or subtle) biases? Do you know the author’s credentials?

7. Use an appropriate style guide to cite your sources.

  • Professors may mention any of the following major ways to format your bibliography and cite sources within your paper:MLAAPA, Chicago. For examples, see our links to style and writing guides, or go to the Reference Desk or Writing Center help.

This page is part of FYE Central, brief guides to Tutt Library and college research.