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Introduction to Library Research: Steps in the Research Process

Library handouts and a video presentation on starting your research using the resources at the Macdonald-Kelce Library at The University of Tampa.

Choosing a Topic

Choose a topic you find inherently interesting and are curious to learn more about. Log in to E-search first.

Access World News - A collection of local, national and international print and online news sources with special reports on current issues easily organized in easily searchable categories.

CQ Researcher and CQ Global Researcher - Single themed reports on domestic and international issues respectively. 

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center - Extensive list of topics and hot button issues.

From Question to Problem to Claim

  • Ask open ended questions that require complex answers. Who, what, when, or where are easily answered questions that relate factual information. A good research paper asks more nuanced questions like why and how.
  • Evaluate your questions: Why is it worth asking? What can be gained by attaining greater understanding? What are the broader implications or consequences? Why is it significant?
  • Does your question and its possible answer present an original contribution to existing scholarship? Remember research is not summary or reporting. Your goal as a researcher is to add something new or to further the conversation in some way through your own analysis.
  • Think about what problem you hope to find a solution to through your research. This will help you identify why it deserves research and communicate why it is of value to your readers.
  • As you begin to read books and articles you may notice inconsistencies, contraditions, unsubstantiated claims, unanswered questions, or the use of dubious evidence which can lead you to ask new questions or lead you to areas worthy of deeper exploration.
  • Your claim, thesis statement, or argument is your proposed answer to the problem posed by your research question. Your research and analysis of sources provide the evidence which supports your claim.
  • Your claim need not be absolute. Often times your research may prove inconclusive, there may be a variety of valid alternatives, or it may be that not enough information is available.

Refining a Topic

Focus on a specific aspect of your topic. Follow these helpful steps:

  • If your topic is too broad (e.g. World War II or crime) there will be too much information.
  • If your topic is overly narrow finding enough information will be challenging.
  • Taking the time to read background information from reference works, internet sources, and books will help you establish an appropriate topic for a research paper. This will allow you to evaluate if there is sufficient interest and scholarship for you to gather the amount of information needed.
  • Figure out the correct language to use. Identify useful terms relevant to your topic. Typically, the language you and I use to discuss a topic is not the same language used by experts.
  • Consider limiting the focus of your topic to narrow your research, by time frame, geographic location, demographic group, specific event, or category of analysis (i.e. social, economic, cultural, etc.).

Steps in the Research Process

  • Primary research is conducting an original experiment, investigating firsthand evidence, or interpreting creative works. Please see the Primary Sources guide for further details.
  • Secondary research involves gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research available in books, articles, statistical sources or other published data.
  • A research paper is not a summary or merely accumulating facts. Research should expand our understanding of the known world, build upon previous scholarship, or offer new insights based on critical evaluation of evidence.

Steps in the Research Process:

  • It may be necessary to revisit some of these steps as you progress in your research.
  • You may find that your initial expectations are not supported, new questions arise, or there are gaps in the research.
  • Flexibility, following the trail of evidence, and reflecting on different ways to phrase or frame your topic are invaluable in dealing with the challenges of research.
  • Cultivating the skills needed to be an effective researcher are integral to professional success and informed citizenship.