Research Process - Research Tools - McDonogh School

Research Process

Follow these steps when working on a research project (paper, presentation, etc.):

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 organized in one place
  • Create folders on your device to organize your project(s)and save your research

Select/Identify Sources

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

Determine Your Search Strategy

  • Identify your search terms
  • Use synonyms and phrases; narrow and broaden your search terms
  • A general encyclopedia can give an overview of your topic as well as potential search ter


Consider a Variety of Sources


Create the Best Searches

Locate Sources

  • Use the Library Catalog to locate books
  • Use the library's Digital Resources for databases
  • Use Local and Global Libraries: public, college, and digital libraries
  • Full-text sources are preferable; use abstracts to help you decide if a source is useful
  • Refine your search as needed
  • Be persistent; the best sources aren't necessarily first in a results list

Choose and Evaluate Sources

Scan and skim results to select relevant sources and confirm their credibility.

  • Identify the publisher or sponsoring organization
  • Determine the author's credentials
  • Consider the publication date
  • Look for and follow citations or a bibliography within the source
  • Be aware of bias
  • Use the Source Evaluation Worksheet to help you determine the credibility of the source
  • 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
  • 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" or quote, you must include a citation
  • Incorporate your research into your assignment by using in-text citations, signal phrases, 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, not more than 10%) 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

  • Choose the correct format: Chicago (History), MLA (English), APA (Science)
  • Alphabetize entries and use hanging indentation
  • Pay special attention to citing a selection of an edited work or a work in an anthology
  • Use bibliographies at the end of an article or book to find other sources on your topic
  • Use the Bibliography Worksheet to organize source information

Review, Revise, and Edit Your Assignment

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