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Research: Where to Start: Getting Started

Getting Started

So you have a research assignment. Now what? This guide will walk through the process of researching and putting together a research paper or project, and will direct you toward other helpful sources for each step.

The Process

Generally, a research project will go through some form of the following steps*

  1. Choose a Topic
  2. Gather Information
  3. Read and Analyze the Information
  4. Outline/Brainstorm your Paper or Project
  5. Write a draft (or put together your presentation/other project type)
  6. Cite Sources

The library can help you with steps 1, 2, 3, and 6. Talk to your professor or visit the Writing Center if you need help planning and drafting your paper.

*These steps are not necessarily in order. For instance, you might have an idea of a topic, but after gathering information about it you decide to focus the topic in a different direction. While you read and analyze the information you've gathered, you'll learn about other important sources and keywords to help you find more information.

Choose a Topic and Gather Information

These first two steps are grouped together because they are an ongoing process early in a research project. Exploring available sources will effect the way you pursue your topic. Maybe you find that a lot has been written on a certain aspect of your topic, or maybe you go down a rabbit hole of related research and end up settling on a totally different topic.

Your topic choice will depend on the assignment prompt. If you need to choose a topic and aren't sure where to start, here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Try to pick something that interests you, if you can. 
  • Your topic should be supported by research and facts.
  • Be flexible; if you can't find any sources on your topic, think about what other angles you could take, or aspects you could explore (ask a librarian if you're stuck!)

As you begin to explore topics by finding relevant information, you will find your topic idea becoming more specific or maybe even changing according to the information you find. That's a good thing! In keeping your topic idea supported by research and facts, and in being flexible about your idea, you are honing in on a good research topic. For more info on this very important process, see our Topic Choice Guide.

Read & Analyze and Outline the Draft

These two steps are grouped together because what you read about for your paper should shape what you write about, and your outline will take shape based on what you discover from your readings. As you read more, your outline will grow and change.

In these steps, you'll read through the sources you've found, take notes, draw conclusions, and start outlining your paper. Organization is one of the most important factors of a good research paper, so think about what points you will use to support your argument, and where those points fit logically into your paper. For help with this step, visit the Writing Center.

Write the Draft and Cite Sources

Once you've narrowed your topic, read quite a bit about it, and put together an outline, you're ready to draft your paper. Remember that the Writing Center is available to help you write the best paper you can. 
As you write your draft, be sure to cite your information sources. Your professor will likely let you know which citation style to use; Citation styles vary by academic field. Check out our citation style guides for examples of different style types, and stop by the Research Help Desk for questions about citing sources or just to double check that your citations are correctly formatted. If you are dealing with a lot of sources, you might want to consider a citation tool like Zotero (which is free!). 

Generally, you should cite any information that you gathered from another source. General knowledge ("the sky is blue") does not need to be cited, but if you're unsure whether or not you need to cite something, go ahead and cite it. It's better to be safe than sorry!

Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

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Kelsey Molseed
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