The Research Process

The quest for information and answers is a life skill.

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

Important Vocabulary
Select/Identify your Topic
Determine your Search Terms
Choose the Best Sources
Create the Best Searches
Locate Sources
Evaluate Sources
Take Notes and Collect Bibliographic Data
Compose/Create your Assignment
Format your Bibliography
Review, Revise, and Edit
Get Organized!

Important Vocabulary

Below are terms you should know when performing research. Need help? See Diana Hacker's Research Research Glossary.
  • Full-text, abstract, citation
  • Primary and secondary sources
  • Monograph, general studies, general reference, scholarly reference
  • Popular journals, scholarly journals
  • Search engines, search terms, basic search, advanced search
  • Editor vs. author
  • Select/Identify your Topic

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

    Determine Your Search Terms

  • Identify your search terms – use the Search Terms Worksheet.
  • Use synonyms and phrases and also narrow and broaden your search terms.
  • A general encyclopedia can help to give you an overview of your topic as well as potential search terms.
  • More about determining your Search Strategy.
  • Choose the Best Sources (or the ones your teacher requires!)

  • Do I need print, electronic or both formats?
  • What type of source do I need? Books, e-books, articles (journals, newspapers, magazines), databases, reference, Internet, interviews, multimedia.
  • More about Choosing Sources.
  • Create the Best Searches

  • Use Basic searches if you have a single term or use Advanced Searches if you have multiple terms. Advanced Searches almost always return better results.
  • Full-text searches scan an entire document for any word (e.g. databases). Subject or keyword searches, however, only look at tagged keywords(e.g. library catalog).
  • Other limits or types (e.g. author, subject, title, citation)
  • Search Tip: When searching names, try all combinations of first, last, and middle name. Also try initials.
  • Search Tip: Narrow or broaden your search terms as necessary and use synonyms. Begin with the most narrow search and use broader terms as necessary.
  • Search Tip: Keep track of your searches to avoid repetition and potentially missing good opportunities.
  • Search Tip: Bottom line: Every search engine is different. Get to know how the engine works and your search results will be better. Use the HELP function. (e.g. Should I use quotes around phrases or not?).
  • Locate Sources

  • Use McDonogh Kiplinger Library!
  • Print – use the Library Catalog
  • Electronic – use the Library's Online Resources.
  • Use Local and Global Libraries: public, college and Internet libraries.
  • Search Results - After you enter a search into a search engine, how do you select from the list? Skim results information (title, author, summary, publisher, date) to find sources on your topic.
  • If there are too many results to skim, refine your search.
  • If a source is not full-text, should I use it? No. Perhaps it is available in full-text from another source; if not, skip it.
  • Be persistent. Answers aren't always uncovered easily. Keep searching!!
  • Evaluate Sources

    Once you’ve chosen an article or source, skim it (look for keywords) to see if it is helpful. If yes, read the article and determine the credibility of the source.
  • Is the publisher or sponsoring organization credible?
  • Is the author credible?
  • How old is the source?
  • How well does it fit my topic?
  • Web sites – use the Web Page Evaluation Scale to help you determine the credibility of the Site.
  • More about Evaluating Sources
  • More about Evaluating Sources from Diana Hacker
  • Take Notes and Collect Bibliographic data

  • Use note cards, the Bibliography Worksheet, or electronic means to take notes. Remember to copy or write down citation information each time you use a source!!
  • Often, databases allow you send a source to your email.
  • By nature, electronic sources are dynamic. Keep copies of electronic sources (electronic or paper) until your paper or project is graded in case there is a question about your source.
  • Compose/Create your Assignment

  • Credit the ideas, pictures, graphs, etc. as necessary so as not to Plagiarize (use another person's words or ideas without proper citation). If you "cut and paste" bells should ring reminding you to 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 intellectual original 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 usually the entire work) for educational purposes. In any case, 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 or Works Cited page(s)

  • What format? See Diana Hacker's Research and Documentation Online (sample papers, help with finding and documenting sources).
  • Chicago – History (single space entries with double space between entries)
  • MLA – English (double space all entries)
  • APA - Science
  • Don't forget to alphabetize entries and use reverse indentation
  • Pay special attention to citing a SELECTION OF AN EDITED WORK or a WORK IN AN ANTHOLOGY!
  • Bibliographies at the end of an article or book are great places to find other sources on your topic.
  • Online citation tools can be helpful, but make sure they create citations in the proper format according to your texts. Review and edit results from online tools as necessary. See Citation Tools.
  • See Bibliography Worksheet.
  • Review, Revise and Edit your Assignment

  • Does it answer questions posed by the topic?
  • Is the format consistent with the style guide (spacing, heading, etc.)
  • Check grammar (punctuation, capitalization, tenses, etc.)
  • Use spellcheckers.
  • Get Organized!

  • Use a two-pocket (or other) folder to keep all handouts and research organized and in one place.
  • Use an electronic project management tool like Questia or Zotero to help you save sources, take notes, write papers, and create a bibliography.
  • Create folders on your computer to organize your project(s)and save your research.

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