The first step in the research process is the have a plan of action. Here are a few steps that will help you start your research.
The following seven steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the library, you may need to change these steps around, or revisit a previous step. However, you are strongly encouraged to start with step one. Adapt this outline to your needs.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY AND DEVELOP YOUR TOPIC
State your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out how the amount of sleep affects the academic performance of college students, you could ask yourself: "What effect does sleep have on the academic performance of college students?" Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. For example: sleep and performance and students.
STEP 2: FIND BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Look up your keywords in the indexes to subject encyclopedias. Read articles in these encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings, and the Internet.
STEP 3: USE THE ONLINE CATALOG TO FIND BOOKS
Use the author search to look-up a specific author. Use the title search if you have a specific title. Use subject searching for a broad subject. Use keyword searching to narrow your topic or combine search terms. Print or write down the citation (author, title, etc.) and the location information (call number and library). Note the circulation status. When you pull the book from the shelf, check to see if it contains a bibliography that will provide additional sources. Bibliographies list citations to books and articles in one subject area.
STEP 4: USE INDEXES, ELECTRONIC DATABASES AND E-JOURNALS TO FIND PERIODICAL ARTICLES
Use periodical indexes and abstracts to find citations to articles. The indexes and abstracts may be in print or electronic (databases) or both. Identify the indexes and format best suited to your particular topic; contact the Information Literacy/Library Instruction Librarian - Research Help Librarian (919) 530-7315 or the reference desk (919) 530-6473.
STEP 5: FIND INTERNET RESOURCES
Use search engines (e.g. Google) and subject directories (e.g. Yahoo!) to locate materials on the Web. Check to see if your subject area has a Research Guide on the library’s Website.
STEP 6: EVALUATE WHAT YOU FIND
Evaluate the information sources you use, especially those found on the Internet. Who is the author? What type of audience is the information intended for? When was it published? Is this scholarly, popular or commercial? If you have found too many or too few sources, you may need to narrow or broaden your topic. Check with a reference librarian or your instructor.
STEP 7: CITE WHAT YOU FIND USING A STANDARD FORMAT
Give credit where credit is due. Cite your sources using a style approved by your professor. Each discipline has its preferred citation style. Popular styles are APA and MLA styles.