Starting the Research Process

Need help on getting started with the research process? Check out tips, strategies, and some of our helpful Research Guides and Ask a Librarian answers.

Research is a process that involves a lot of different, and often interconnected, steps. Use the following tips and resources to help you get started with your research project, whether you are writing a paper, preparing for a presentation, or creating a digital exhibit.

Understand Your Assignment

Make sure you understand the parameters of your research assignment. Here are a few things to consider when you first get a new research assignment.

  • Due dates - Aside from making sure you turn your assignment in on time, keeping your due date in mind can help you make a plan for your research process and budget in time for things like visiting an archive, scheduling a research consultation with a librarian, or requesting materials that you need like a book or an article.
  • Assignment details - Make note of the required length of your paper, since you’ll want to scale your research topic up and down accordingly. See if there are any requirements around things like citations, font size, etc.
  • Requirements around sources – Make sure you understand what you need to complete your assignment. Do you need a news source or scholarly sources? Do you need a specific number of sources?

Select and Scope Your Topic

Selecting and refining your research topic is one of the most challenging parts of the research process. Here are a few suggestions for how to get started.

  • Consider your assignment parameters – Different types of assignments and assignment requirements can lend themselves to different topics.
  • Explore ideas – Look at your syllabus and course readings to see if they spark any ideas, explore the news and current events, or consider if you have any personal interest or hobbies that overlap with your class.
  • Test your topic and conduct background research – Run some online searches with your topic to ensure that you’re finding information that you can use. Background research can help you get a general overview of and help refine your topic. Aside from using resources like Wikipedia, the Emory Libraries has databases that can help you with your background research.
  • Scope your topic – As you run searches online with your topic, pay attention to both how many and what types of results you get.
    • Too broad – If you get too many results, you’ll want to narrow down your topic and make it more specific. Consider if there might be a specific person, place, or time period that you can use to narrow your topic.
    • Too narrow – If you do not get enough results, or your results aren’t relevant, you’ll want to broaden your topic. Consider if there are broader issues or concepts that you can connect to your topic.

Consider Your Information Needs

Think about the type of information that you will need in your research project. Different research projects can have different information needs.

  • What questions do you want to answer?
  • What type of sources will help you answer your questions or illustrate points to your audience? Do you need data, a first-person account, an historical document?
  • Where can you find the types of sources that you need?

Develop Keywords

Keywords can help you search for and locate needed information. You’ll want to try a variety of keywords when you are conducting research since different people might be talking about your topic in different ways. Try experimenting with related keywords and different ways of referring to your topic.

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