Where should I start my research?
Last Updated: Apr 16, 2018     Views: 15


Everybody starts their personal research process a little differently. It all depends on how comfortable you are with the topic or class, what you know already, and what the assignment actually is (a 10 page paper, an annotated bibliography, a literature review, etc.).

First, look to see if there is an OWHL Guide for your class or assignment! This is often the best place to start because you can find all sorts of librarian-recommended resources, from reference to secondary to primary sources.

Generally, knowledge and information start on a small scale, and then develop into something larger and broader. For instance, when an event happens, specific people are involved in it and/or made it happen. Then other people report on it, more people analyze it, and it gradually becomes a part of a narrative.

Your research process should generally move in the opposite direction: broad to specific. Take a look at the infographic below, which recommends that you start with reference sources (encyclopedias, etc.) to get context, and then gradually make your way to secondary and primary sources. 

Once you have read a reference article (or two) on your topic, you should know more about it. Depending on where you started and what you read, you might either have a specific event or two, a particular person, or a theme (economy, popular culture, etc.) in your notes. You might even have a combination of all three!

Now, think of some questions you have about your topic. Remember the CASA method for good research questions: Compelling; Answerable; Specific; Arguable. You may a few questions in mind at this point, and that's okay. Now you have several topics or ideas you can look up in secondary sources. 

You have probably noticed that the word "thesis" hasn't come up at all. That's because you never start the research process with a thesis in mind. Never. Instead, let your thesis comes up from the research that you do and the things that you learn. In fact, you probably won't have your final thesis until you write the final draft of your paper! 

At its heart, the research process requires just that: research. So start with a topic that interests you, get specific with your examples, read sources as you find them, and take good notes. 

As always, if you're struggling with any part of the research process, simply stop by the OWHL to meet with one of the Instructional Librarians.

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