Research Process - Library Resources - McDonogh School

Research Process

Follow these steps when working on a research project:

Important Vocabulary

  • Full-text, abstract, citation
  • Primary and secondary sources
  • Periodicals vs. scholarly journals
  • Search engines, search terms, basic search, advanced search

Get Organized

  • Keep all handouts and research together in one place.
  • Create digital or physical folders for your research notes and sources.

Select/Identify Sources

  • Craft a thesis statement or identify a question you want to answer.
  • Revise your topic or thesis as necessary based on your research.

Determine Your Search Strategy

  • Identify search terms or keywords for your topic.
  • Use synonyms and phrases; narrow and broaden your search terms as needed.
  • Consider using an encyclopedia or Wikipedia for a topic overview and potential search terms.

Consider a Variety of Sources

  • Many types of sources can be useful depending on your project: books, e-books, periodicals (journals, newspapers, magazines), databases, websites, blogs, interviews, videos, and audio recordings
  • More about Choosing Sources


Create Better Searches

Locate Sources

  • Use the US Library catalog to locate books.
  • Use the library's Digital Resources for databases.
  • Use Local and Global Libraries: public and digital libraries.
  • Full-text sources are preferable; use abstracts to help decide if an article is useful.
  • Refine your search terms and scope as needed.
  • Use bibliographies at the end of an article or book to find other sources on your topic.
  • Be persistent; the best sources aren't necessarily first in a results list.

Choose and Evaluate Sources

Scan or skim results to select relevant sources and confirm their credibility and their usefulness to your specific need.

  • Identify the publisher or sponsoring organization.
  • Determine the author's credentials and purpose.
  • Consider the publication date and relevance to your research.
  • Look for and follow citations or a bibliography within the source.
  • Be aware of bias—your own and the source's.
  • More about Evaluating Sources

Compose Your Assignment and Collect Bibliographic Data

  • Use note cards, the Bibliography Worksheet, or other means to take notes; copy citation information for every source that you use.
  • Databases often have an embedded citation tool.
  • Digital sources are dynamic; keep track of all sources until your project is graded in case there is a question about any source or access date.
  • Credit intellectual property (ideas, images, graphs, etc.) to avoid plagiarism (using another person's words or ideas without proper citation). If you "cut and paste," quote, or use another person's idea(s), you must include a citation. Plagiarism is a violation of the McDonogh Honor Code.
  • Incorporate your research into your assignment by using in-text citations, signal phrases (e.g. "According to the Pew Research Center..."), end notes, or footnotes as appropriate.


  • Copyright pertains to original intellectual works such as literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works given exclusive rights that are protected by U.S. law. Items that are copyrighted cannot be used without permission. Citing your sources does not imply permission for these sources. In some cases students and teachers are protected under Fair Use, which allows for some use (a few pages or a few minutes) for educational purposes. Current laws should be referenced to ensure proper use. Additional Copyright Information.
  • Honor Code—Using copyrighted works without permission or plagiarizing another’s work is an academic and professional offense. Plagiarism is a McDonogh Honor Code Violation and can result in a hearing with the McDonogh Upper School Honor Council.

Format Your Bibliography

Review, Revise, and Edit

  • Confirm that your work answers questions posed by your topic.
  • Consistently follow the correct style guide (Chicago, MLA, APA) when formatting.
  • Edit and proofread: check grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, tense, etc.