"Where Do I Start?"
First, let's think about what we mean when we say "research."
How Much Do You Already Know?
Read Your Assignment Carefully
Before you can even begin your research, though, you need to read the assignment instructions carefully – more than once! This will help you understand the work you need to do.
Highlight topic guidelines, required length, and the types of information sources allowed.
Let's take a look at a sample assignment.
Understand Your Assignment
Pick a Good Topic
Lily's assignment is broad enough to give her some choices when picking a topic. So, what makes a good topic?
- It interests you! You'll enjoy it and do a better job.
- It meets the requirements of your assignment.
- It's broad enough to give you several search options.
- It's focused enough that you're not overwhelmed with information.
Too Broad, Too Narrow, or Just Right?
Identify Potential Ideas
Now it's time to really focus your topic. Browse a few resources for ideas and identify different aspects of the topic.
Remember, if you pick a subject that interests you, you'll enjoy the research process much more!
Customize Your Topic
Let's say your assignment is to research an environmental issue. This is a broad starting point, which is a normal first step.
One way to customize your topic is to consider how different disciplines approach the same topic in different ways. For example, here's how your broad topic of "environmental issues" might be approached from different perspectives.
Roll your mouse over each image to see an example.
Turn Your Topic into a Question
When you've chosen a topic, it's time to ask some questions. Using "environmental issues" as our general research interest, let's ask some questions about environmental issues and agriculture.
Roll your mouse over each arrow to see examples.
What's Your Angle?
Let's say that the most interesting question that emerged from the last exercise was: "How does repeated pesticide use in agriculture impact soil and groundwater pollution?"
Find Your Keywords
Now that we have our sample research question, we need to identify the key concepts and their related keywords.
Using our research question, "How does repeated pesticide use in agriculture impact soil and groundwater pollution?" we might consider these keywords:
A Symphony of Synonyms
Dive Into a Sea of Resources!
Browse through general sources to get familiar with your topic. You will find many sources for locating background information. Remember our point from earlier in this tutorial: the source you select will determine what you find. Make sure you spend your time looking in the right places.
What Do You Know?
Once you've established your focused topic, you need to get familiar with it by doing some reading. Start with more general sources and then work up to more specific and detailed sources. Where you go next depends on how much you know.
Matching Resources to Your Information Need
Match the items on the right with the ones on the left.
Note: This section of the Research LOOP is adapted from a tutorial created by the University of California Libraries.