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research help: Research Process


Just as you would use a roadmap to travel to a city you are unfamiliar with, a research strategy offers a successful way to navigate through a project. A research strategy helps identify exactly what you are looking for and where to look for it. Choosing your topic is the first step in developing a research strategy. While this may sound simple, it can often be one of the more difficult aspects of the process. To simplify this, we've identified steps and techniques to identify, refine and target a topic related to your research needs.

These techniques work best if you have some idea of the topic on which you want to write (i.e globalization or outsourcing). If you have absolutely no idea where to begin, it is best to review your class notes, meet with your instructor, or consult with a reference librarian for ideas on how to get started.


Unless you have a question that has only one answer, such as 2+2=4, chances are you can use some guidance in choosing a research topic. You can begin the process by exploring the subject matter you are being asked to research. A great way to explore a subject is to brainstorm ideas, words, and issues related to that subject. Once you have done this, it will be easier to choose the topic that best suits the assignment or project you need to do.

Know Your Subject Area If you are doing research for a course or for your job, you have most likely been given an assignment to complete. Take a look at the assignment and pick one word or term that best reflects the subject you are researching. Now brainstorm to find a list of words related to your topic. Simply begin by writing down as many ideas of which are related to the topic / assignment.

Refining Your Topic

Once you have chosen a general subject area through brainstorming, the next step is to refine your topic. This process can help you avoid the common research pitfalls of choosing a topic that is either too narrow or too broad, resulting in too little or too much information. Working through this pre-research exercise will keep you focused on the information you need.

The following seven guidelines may help you to refine your topic.

1. Instructor Expectations

Discussing a potential topic with your instructor - Your instructor is the best person to help you refine your topic to fit the paper or project he or she has assigned. Read the assignment thoroughly and make note of the questions you want to ask.

You might consider asking about the following:
  • Instructor's expectations for the project - are they looking for a general overview of the subject or in-depth and focused coverage of a specific aspect?
  • Time period they want covered - is this an historical summary or a report of current developments?
  • Geographic limitations - is coverage international or limited to a certain country or region?
  • Length of final project - is this for a ten page paper or an informal, five minute presentation?

2. Librarians

Many students only consult a reference librarian after hours of frustrated searching that has returned little or no useful information. To save yourself time and energy, it is often best to talk to the librarian before starting your research. They can quickly help you identify the best place to begin. Sometimes that librarian has helped others on the same topic or assignment and will know of sources that were most helpful in the past.

3. Assignment Guidelines

Once you have spoken with your instructor, it is important to understand what they are asking for and also to decide what you want out of this assignment. If this is a subject you are really familiar with, maybe there is a specific area you'd like to explore further. If you are new to the subject area, choose a topic that will help you get a broad understanding of the subject area or introduce you to the current issues. You also want to plan the type of research you will be doing by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How many sources are you going to need?
  2. Will you concentrate on one specific source format (books vs. web sites vs. journal articles) or a variety?
  3. Are you being asked to conduct original research or review what research has been done?

4. Assigning Limits

It is important to create a realistic research goal. In examining your research preferences and your instructor's expectations, try to set clear limits to your project that will guide you through your project.

Ask yourself the same questions mentioned in the Instructor Guideline technique:
  • Is your project an overview of the subject or in-depth and focused coverage of a specific aspect?
  • What time period are you covering?
  • Is this an historical summary or a report of current developments?
  • Are there any geographic limitations involved - is coverage international or limited to a certain country or region?
  • What is the length of the final project - is it a ten page paper or an informal, five minute presentation?

5. Interests / Dislikes
Considering personal interests:

It is always best when you have a personal interest in the subject you are researching. Think about: Topics you discuss with friends, fellow students or other colleagues. Topics referred to in news and/or entertainment media. Topics covered within professional or technical journals. Topics mentioned inside your course materials (syllabus, textbooks, course handouts, etc.) Topics touched upon in previous research papers you have written, about which you'd like to conduct additional investigation. Topics in formal research papers, books and other publications within your field. (If you are new or unfamiliar to the subject area, consult your instructor for ideas.)

Review your dislikes:

Just as important as picking a topic you are personally invested in is NOT picking a topic you are disinterested in. By considering your personal distastes or dislikes you may be able to easily narrow down your topic and focus on what you find most interesting about the subject you are researching.

6. Time

Knowing how much time is realistically available to you is a good way to manage your research plan. If your project will be a in-depth historical analysis, you will need to spend more time gathering information and data than if you only need a few articles for a brief presentation on a recent headline grabbing merger. This is also a good time to consider whether you will be doing any research that needs to be arranged in advance, like interviewing or field trips to libraries outside of your area.

A reference librarian can be a big help in determining what will be easily available, or what you may need more time to find.

7. Available Material

The reference librarian can help identify the amount of material that is readily available on your topic. Research resources include the GGU Library, the Interlibrary Loan program and the Document Delivery service. The GGU Library builds our collection to fit the needs and demands of the courses offered here. The books, journals, newspapers, and databases are all chosen to support the programs being offered, and even specific assignments. In addition to the physical materials in the library, the many databases we subscribe to can link you to a wide variety of resources.

If you have identified an article or book you need for your project, and can't find it in our library, ask a reference librarian for help. You can request to have the book or a copy of the article sent to the library at no cost to you. For additional information on the Interlibrary Loan Service, pleaseask a librarian.

Forming a Research Question

Now that you have the topic you would like to research, the next step in this process is forming the research question. A well-formed research question gives your search direction and organization and identifies the specific information you need. If you have a good question, you will find good answers.

Characteristics of Good Research Questions
  • Ask yourself what you already know.
  • Focus in on what questions you still need to answer or would like to answer.
  • If a topic is new to you, review your textbook or notes to gain some insight.

Good research questions ask a specific question
  • Research questions do not need to be specific, but they should be concrete.
  • Focused ideas will make searching for information much easier.

Good research questions are flexible and adaptable.
  • Flexibility allows you to change the course of your questions based on the resources available.
  • Sometimes the question you ask may not be the one you answer. This acceptable because flexible questions account for this sometime unavoidable part of research.

Finding Keywords

Keywords are the main terms that make up the question, and are the driving force to your search. Many people are familiar with keyword searching because it is the search used most by web search engines.

  • Knowing the keywords you will use in your researching gives you flexibility and saves you time when searching.
  • Identify the main concepts in your research question. Typically there should only be two or three main concepts.

  • Once the main concepts are identified, find synonyms that match these topics.

    Use a thesaurus, your textbook, subject headings of the databases, or already researched articles to help you find different keywords for your concepts.


There are many different types of information sources that can be useful for your research. Below is a chart outlining categories of the main information resources as well as the types of content included in them. Following the chart are some guideline for finding the most popular types of information. Of course, if you need additional help or have more questions, do not hesitate to ask a librarian.


Magazines, Newspapers Typically content revolves around current events and popular culture. The focus is geared toward the general public with articles written by journalists or freelance reporters Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Wall Street Journal, New York Times
Scholarly Journals Content includes in-depth articles providing research and analysis of specific topics in particular fields. Authors are typically specialists in the field or scholars Harvard Business Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Academy of Management Review
Books, Electronic Books Although books can contain all types of content, they usually provide in depth and/or historical analysis of a subject. The authors can vary, but are typically well known in the field in which they are writing. Print Volumes in the library, eBooks from library databases
Websites, Internet The focus, content and authors of websites vary according to each individual site. Always evaluate website information carefully. Internet, Searches using Google, Bing, etc.
Financial Databases Financial databases contain data sets and financial information for companies and industries. They contain more in-depth information than what you can find for free on the web. Financial databases such as OneSource, Standard & Poor's Net Advantage, ValueLine, Morningstar
Documents Documents is a broad category and can be found in a variety of places including the library, the World Wide Web, and the general article databases.covering white papers, working papers, newsletters, etc… They will contain industry information, statistics, as well as potential insider information. They can be biased so be sure to evaluate the sources using the suggested criteria. White Papers, Working Papers, Newsletters, etc...

A critical step in the Academic Research process is evaluating the information you found. When you evaluate resources, you are trying to determine if the information is trustworthy to use in your research project.

Analyzing your research requires you to think critically about the material. Researchers do this by asking themselves questions pertaining to the material. The questions usually fall into five categories.


For whom is the information intended -- High school students? Educators? Experts? Knowing the audience of your information tells you the level of expertise required to use and interpret the information in the source.


What are the credentials of the author? By what authority is this person writing information? Most articles in journals and magazines will list the author's expertise or skills. Is the person a scholar or expert in the field? Or is the person merely interested in the subject or reporting on it? Obviously, it is always better to use information produced by respected authors or editors of a discipline.


How accurate is the information? Are basic facts acknowledged or ignored? How do the facts compare to your other information sources? Also, what type of information is the author presenting? Is it fact or opinion? This will affect how you present the information in your final product.


Does the content match your information need? Do you need to use peer-reviewed articles or just web information? If you are doing a project on market share, make sure your research contains market share data.


What is the date of the information source? Does the date matter to your particular subject? Issues in business and industries can change rapidly so the date of publication can be an important factor.


Citing your resources in the proper style is a key componant of the research process. Most papers/ projects at GGU require the use of APA style.

Citation Guides


Please ask a librarian if you have any questions regarding citing sources.


Other Resources