The Research Process

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

Important Vocabulary

Below are terms you should know when doing research.
  • 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 your Topic

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

  • Identify your search terms—use the Search Terms Worksheet
  • 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 terms
  • More about determining your Search Strategy
  • Consider a Variety of Sources (or those required by your teacher)

  • Many types of sources can be useful: books, e-books, periodicals (journals, newspapers, magazines), databases, websites, blogs, interviews, videos, and audio recordings
  • More about Choosing Sources
  • Create the Best Searches

  • Use Ctrl+F or Command+F to search text for specific keywords or phrases
  • Use limiters including author, title, publication date, and file type
  • When searching names, try all combinations of first, last, and middle name; also try initials
  • Narrow or broaden your search terms as necessary; use synonyms
  • Keep track of your search terms to know what yields the best results; try successful terms in other databases
  • Be aware that every search engine is different; use the HELP function or ask your librarian
  • 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 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

  • 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 or Works Cited page(s)

  • Chicago – History (single space entries with double space between entries)
  • MLA – English (double space all entries)
  • APA - Science (double space all entries)
  • 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
  • Digital citation makers can be helpful, though you should make sure they create citations in the proper format; use Citation Tools for help
  • See Bibliography Worksheet
  • Review, Revise, and Edit your Assignment

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

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