The Research Process
"Information Literacy is the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information. It is the knowledge of commonly used research techniques."Source: "Information Literacy." University of Idaho.
Identify your topic
Example: Pollution in the ocean
- Ask yourself what you already know about your topic, and what you want to find out.
- Consider the disciplines or subject areas that are likely to include your topic.
- Consult the table of contents within both general and subject encyclopedias to determine the structure of your topic.
- Note subtopics, related topics, and authors who have written about your topic.
- Use an electronic citation manager (NoodleTools) to keep track of your sources and notes.
Gather background information
- Use both general and subject-specific encyclopedias to develop a broad overview of your topic. Hint: look at the table of contents to see how your topic is organized, and to identify subtopics.
- Identify the people, places, organizations, and issues related to your topic.
- Consider subtopics you might want to focus on.
Identify key concepts
Example: oceanography, environment and life sciences, fisheries, natural resources, biology.
- Once you have identified key concepts, list synonyms for them. THese terms can be used in keyword searches.
- Perform a preliminary search of library resources using your keywords to determine if there is enough information on your topic.
- Found a great resource? Follow the trail! Find out where the author got his or her resources by looking for the references, works cited, or notes section listed at the end of an article or within footnotes.
Develop essential questions
- Using the information you’ve gathered and the issues you learned about, state your topic as a question. This question will guide your focused research. [Example: How does pollution affect the ocean?]
- Think of different types of questions: compare/contrast, cause/effect, etc.
Focus your research
- Get more focused, in-depth, or historical background related to your research question.
- Consult a wide variety of resources: books, databases, newspaper articles, scholarly journal articles, etc.
- Use appropriate information for your topic. Make sure you understand how to access and use the type of sources your teacher is requiring you to use!
Evaluate your sources
- Does the author have authority on the topic?
- What is the purpose of the source - to inform, to entertain, to teach, or to influence?
- Who is the author writing for? Is it biased in any way?
- Does the author offer several points of view?
View helpful tutorials
5 Steps to Better Research
This tutorial from Colorado State University Libraries provides a great example of the beginning stages of research:
selecting a topic, determining the main concepts, developing questions, and focusing your topic.
This excellent tutorial from UC Libraries outlines the basic research process: narrowing a topic, asking questions, finding keywords, and choosing sources.
Info Research 101
Adapted from: Burkhardt, Joanna M., Mary C. MacDonald, and Andrée J. Rathemacher. Teaching Information Literacy: 50 Standards-based Exercises for College Students. Chicago: American Library Association, 2010.
An interactive step by step tutorial with samples and exercises. includes information on: defining a topic choosing the proper sources, using search tools, working with results, writing and citing.