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The Research Process

Define your topic

When writing a research paper your first step will usually be choosing a topic. 

Here are some steps you can take to make the process easier:

  • talk to your instructor about topic ideas
  • meet with a reference librarian to discuss ideas
  • browse topics in newspapers, in general or subject specific encyclopedias, or in databases such as Credo Reference.

Understand your topic

Once you have chosen your topic, you might want to do some general, background research. Even if your instructor has assigned you a topic, you will still need to understand what it means, and what is required, before you can start researching and writing - perhaps there are terms or ideas that you are not familiar with, or maybe you need to know more about the history of the subject. This kind of understanding will provide a foundation, and can help you to develop a focused research question and thesis statement, from which you can select key words and phrases for your research.

The most common background sources are:

  1. Dictionaries - provide definitions of terms
  2. Encyclopedias - provide short articles about many subjects
  3. Textbooks - can include both definitions and background information
  4. Websites - but be sure they reliable sources, by evaluating them using the CRAAP Test.
  5. Newspapers - read them in the library, or online with our Press Reader subscription.

You can also search the Library catalogue to find more resources. 

Here's how:

Using the Advanced Search feature of the the library catalogue, select title from the first drop down menu and enter dictionary OR encyclopedia.

In the second box, using the default all fields enter your subject keyword (keep this simple, e.g. chemistry, accounting, etc...)

Limit your content type to book/ebook


Adapted from:

Library Research at Cornell: The Seven Steps

Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)