The Research Process

Let's get started on the path to success with these steps for the research process!

Choose it.

An interesting and appropriate research topic is the foundation to a good research project. A good topic is one that is broad enough so that you will be able to find sources, but narrow enough so that it fits the scope and length of your assignment. Can you phrase your topic as a clear but concise question?  Creating a research question can help focus your topic and show you where it might need some tweaking.  If you have questions about whether or not your topic is well-suited for your assignment, your professor is always the best person to ask.  Librarians can help you to think about and refine your topic too.

Mind-map for topic development

Deconstruct it.

Research projects are all about the "stuff" that you find in order to support your own facts, opinions, and ideas.  To find those sources, you need to break your topic down into keywords for searching databases and search engines that give you access to all of that stuff.  One way to do this is to ask yourself, what are the 3 or 4 major concepts that make up your research topic?

For example:

Break your topic into keywords to search.

These major concepts are your keywords!  Try them in different combinations in different databases and search engines to see what you can find. 

Not getting the results you were looking for?  Searching other words that are similar to your original keywords can be effective. 

Keyword synonyms

You can also ask a librarian to get more ideas on where to search and what to search for.

Know where to look for it.

There are lots of different kinds of resources that will add to your research in different ways.  What you need your information to help you do will determine the type of information you need to look for and where to look for it. 

Do you need background information? If you are having trouble focusing your topic or thinking of keywords, starting with a general encyclopedia can steer you in the right direction. See our Subject Guides for ideas, or ask a librarian for help. You wouldn't want to cite an encyclopedia in your paper, but they're great for getting general background knowledge that can help you search for the scholarly stuff more effectively.

Do you need "scholarly" or "popular" sources?  Scholarly books and journals are formal sources written by researchers and scholars who know a ton about a particular topic and want to contribute to the greater knowledge and understanding of that topic.  They are written for other scholars who study and do research.  These sources are often "peer-reviewed," which means that other experts who know a lot about that same topic have looked over the article and given it the thumbs-up.  Popular sources, on the other hand, are written to inform, persuade, or entertain the general public. They come in a number of different formats, including magazines, newspapers, and blogs.  Each type of information is useful under different circumstances, but most assignments require scholarly sources.  Be sure you know what your instructor expects you to use.

Do you need "primary" or "secondary" sources?  Primary sources are research articles or personal accounts created by people who actually conducted the research or observed an event first-hand. Secondary sources are interpretations written by someone else who wasn't there at the time of the event, but read about it later from a variety of different perspectives. Again, just be sure what your instructor expects.

Do you need books or articles? For many projects, you'll use both books and articles, but sometimes your instructor will specify that you must use one or the other. Remember that the Champlain Library has both books and articles in both print and electronic formats.

Go out and find it!

Find Books. Use the online catalog to search for books in the Champlain College Library.  You can search by author, title, or keyword. (If you don't know the author or title, use Keyword searching.) Books in the library will include the call number and location to help you find it in the stacks.  eBooks can be accessed from any computer, anytime, anywhere, with your Champlain ID and password. 

Find Articles. Use the library's online databases (listed alphabetically and by subject) to search for journal articles. Clicking the "Full-text" box when you start your search will ensure you can get to the full article once you find it. 

Need something we don't have?  You can request articles through Interlibrary Loan, or take advantage of our relationship with UVM and St. Mike's.  Librarians are great resources to ask for assistance with this!

Pro-Tip: A great starting point for almost any project is our Subject Guides. These online guides were put together by librarians, who collected a variety of sources on each of the broad topics listed.  No matter what kind of information you need, these guides will give you some great places to get started!    

Evaluate it.

You're out there in the literary trenches, finding all kinds of sources, but is the stuff you're finding good enough to make it into your paper?  Before you decide to include a source you uncover in what you write, subject it to the CRAP test.

Synthesize it.

Now that you've narrowed it down to the good stuff, it's time to dive into the information and find connections.  Is there a common theme that you see across multiple sources?  Do you see two distinct sides to an argument that you can compare and contrast?  How does the information that you found compare to what you thought you would find at the start of your project--does it prove or disprove your hypothesis or research question?  This is an important step that shows the value of the sources you've spent so much time collecting.

This process can also show you information gaps where you need to do more digging.  Does the information you have fail to cover something important that you need in order to answer your original research question?  Has the information you found made you think about things in a different way?  This can be a good time to think through the big ideas of your paper and how you want to structure them.

Write it.

Now you are finally ready to actually start writing!  This is when your ideas come together with the ideas from others that you've discovered through your research. 

Want to make sure you're explaining things fully, or that you're using proper grammar?  The Writing Center is a great place to go.  Located on the 2nd floor of the Miller Information Commons, they are a great place to visit if you want a second set of eyes to look over your paper before turning it in for a grade.

Cite it.

You worked hard to find all of those resources--just look at all of the steps you had to take to get here!  Give yourself, and those authors, credit by citing them in your paper.  This is what gives greater credibility to your original ideas and makes them carry more weight.  Think about it as if you're having a conversation.  You are talking with your friend, and your friend makes a somewhat lofty claim, like you shouldn't brush your teeth right after you eat food because it could mess up the enamel.  How does he know that?  Where'd he get that from?  If he can cite an article in the New York Times, suddenly, this idea doesn't seem so far-flung.  The same goes for your ideas when you're writing a research paper.  Your professor will tell you what format you should use.  Check out this handy citation guide for formatting your citations, and ask a librarian at the Miller Information Commons for assistance if you want to make sure you're citing things properly.

More tips:

  • Check in regularly with your professor to discuss the direction of your paper or project.
  • Use your writing guides. The College has adopted Purdue's Online Writing Laboratory (OWL) guide as a resource for research and writing. Get to know this handy reference to answer basic questions about both processes.