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Research Steps: Research Strategy

Additional Information for research tutorial

Step 1: The Basics

  • Asking questions
  • Gathering information
  • Assessing or evaluating information
  • Organizing and then presenting the information

You have a research assignment, but what does "research" mean? Research is:

Step 2: Select a Topic
Try to find an issue or topic that interests you. A good topic is:

  • Narrow: focuses on the essential element of the topic
  • Challenging: engages the reader or encourages debate
  • Grounded: can be argued from fact, not just belief

Step 3: Background Information
Start by looking through: These will give you a basic overview of the topic and may provide lists of other books or articles you could consult during your research.

  • general encyclopedias
  • subject specific encyclopedias
  • dictionaries
  • almanacs
  • course textbooks
  • lecture notes

Step 4: Refine Your Topic
You will probably need to narrow the focus of your topic since most are too broad to be covered in a research paper. Sometimes, however, a topic is so narrow in scope there is little information available. In this case, you will need to expand your focus. Go from a general topic, to a more specific topic and then hone it to the precise topic that you will research. For example:

State your topic as a question. This will help you formulate your thesis or the main purpose of your topic. This will usually be stated at the beginning of your paper. For example, you might pose the question:

In addition, you can brainstorm other questions that might have bearing on your topic, such as:

  • The general topic - environmental impact of oil refineries
  • The more specific topic - environmental impact of oil refineries in urban areas
  • Your precise topic - health effects of oil refineries in urban areas.

A good question could be "What are the health effects on urban residents near oil refineries?", but your research doesn't stop there. More questions can start to emerge, such as:

  • How many urban refineries are there?
  • What chemicals are used or produced during refinement?
  • Are there studies comparing resident's health before and after a refinery has opened?

It's important to keep an open mind when researching any topic. As you find new information, more questions may emerge. It's always good to think of your paper requirements to determine how much information you need to help scope your research.

Step 5: Shape Your Search Strategy
Once you have your research question, you can begin to look for information. How do you do this? Here are some helpful pointers:

  • Look in the library catalogue for books, videos and other resources
  • Look in library databases for articles, books and other information
  • Search the Internet for authoritative websites

Think of the key concepts and terms in your research question "What are the health effects on urban residents near oil refineries?"

  • Health
  • Urban
  • Oil
  • Refineries

Next, think of related terms for these concepts

  • health - wellness, illness, sickness
  • urban - city, town, residential, neighbourhood
  • oil - petroleum, gas, energy
  • refinery - plant, production processor

Combine terms using Boolean operators. These apply whether using a catalogue, database or internet search engine

AND - narrows and locates items that have ALL your search terms

Example: health AND urban AND oil

OR - broadens and locates items that have ANY of your terms

Example: urban OR city OR residential

NOT - excludes items by eliminating a concept

Example: urban NOT rural
Combine your operators for more exact searching
Health AND (urban OR city OR residential) AND ("oil refineries")

Tip: Use quotes around more than one word to combine terms into one, known as a phrase search; otherwise, the search will consider them to be two separate keywords.

Step 6: Evaluate Your Information
Okay, so now you have a few resources you might use for your assignment. Now you need to decide whether the information is reliable and useful to you. The Evaluating Information: Use your RADAR guide can help you make these choices, but here are the key considerations:

  • Is the information relevant to your topic?
  • Is the date of publication appropriate?
  • Is the author qualified?
  • What is the author's purpose?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Are there references and/or footnotes?

You should also consider your use of scholarly and popular publications in your research. Generally, scholarly articles - those written by experts for academic periodicals - add more weight, or importance, to your research than articles found in popular magazines. See the guide Types of Journals for more information.

Step 7: Begin Writing
Now it is time to begin writing. If you need guidance on writing the research project consult with your instructor. As well, a librarian can help find books and other resources to assist you. As always, make sure you cite any sources that you use in your work using a citation style.

If you need further assistance, connect with a librarian. 

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