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Research Guide: Get Started

Advice for getting started on a research project.

Getting Started on a Research Paper

Road with the word start on pavement

1. First and most importantly – Read and understand your assignment!  Be sure you understand the requirements and limits of the assignment.  Pay attention to wording, the audience, the scope of expected research, and the desired length.
2. Set up a schedule.  Include library and online exploration time.  Set a date for when you will decide on a topic and/or hypothesis.  Allow time to gather sources.  Consider deadlines for a rough outline and thesis.  Take into account note taking, rough draft, and revision time, and when the final draft is due. Try this assignment calculator from the University of Kentucky. 
3. Identify the purpose:  look for cue words, such as describe, survey, analyze, explain, classify, compare, and contrast in the assignment.
4. Identify the audience:  be sure to think about what they already know, what they will want to learn about, what assumptions they may have/receive, and what response you wish to elicit from them.
5. Identify the scope of your research:  what kind of sources do you need and how many?
6. Choose a topic.  Think about subjects with which you are or would like to become familiar.  Search online and skim your textbooks or other reading materials.  Ask yourself if the topic is:  
1)      interesting
2)      manageable
3)      has more than one angle
4)      has available resources
Focus your topic so that it is not too broad or specific for the length of your assignment.
7. Develop a hypothesis or thesis statement:  one interesting statement about your research that can be proved or disproved by your evidence.
8. Explore your topic:  find relevant books, articles, websites, etc.
9. Adjust your thesis, if needed, based on what you learn from your research.

Adapted from “Getting Started on a Research Paper” published by the Gustavus Adolphus College Writing Center.

Find Background Information

Open book on wooden table

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries online

Although not recommend for use in a college-level research paper, encyclopedias and dictionaries are wonderful resources for gaining background information about a topic with which you are unfamiliar before starting your research.

Select A Research Topic

Keyword Searching

Keyword Search Rules for the Library Catalog and Databases

Using AND/OR/NOT (Boolean Search Operators)
Circular Venn diagram showing that using the AND Boolean operator brings back results that contain both global warming and agriculture

Use AND to focus search and combine different aspects of your topic.

Example: vegetarianism and environment

Circular Venn diagram showing that using the OR Boolean operator brings back results that have either global warming or greenhouse effect individually or together 

Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.

Example: global warming or climate change

Circular Venn diagram showing that using the NOT Boolean operator brings back results with the search term hurricanes but omits results that have both hurricanes and North Carolina

Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search

Example: emissions trading not United States


Additional Search Tips

"Phrase search"  - Use quotation marks" " to search for a particular phrase.

Example:"greenhouse gas emissions"

Truncation * - Use an asterisk to find variations of a word. Put an asterisk following the root of the word to find all variations of that word, including singular and plural.

Example:environment* (finds environments, environmental, environmentalist, etc.)

(Grouping/Nesting Keywords) - Use parentheses ( ) as a way to group all your search terms together.

Example:(climate change or global warming) and population growth

Ask us to help you brainstorm keywords and put together your own search query.