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Library DIY: Starting your Research

How do I get started?

Congratulations!  You've done the hardest part - you've recognized that you need help getting started! 

It's important to remember that research is a process - it can take a long time and sometimes you might need to repeat a step a few times, or even start over before you get it right.  That's okay - that's a normal part of the process. 

Graham, Rebecca. "The Research Process: The Journey from Idea to Finished Paper" YouTube, uploaded July 2019.

Identify the important parts of your assignment instructions

Grab your assignment and highlight the following key parts of a research assignment:

  • Due date: Knowing when your assignment is due will help you structure your research and create a timeline for your work.

  • Length of the assignment: This will help you determine the scope of your topic. A shorter paper needs a more focused topic.  A longer paper may need more background or more in-depth research, depending on the assignment.

  • Purpose of the assignment: Are you supposed to critique, annotate, analyze, synthesize, or something else? These all mean different things and you need to understand what is expected of you before you begin.

  • Topic guidance: Sometimes professors provide a list of suggested topics or guidance about what a good topic or research question looks like. This can help you to know you are on the right track.

  • Types of sources: It is important to know what types of sources you are looking for so you don't waste time, or end up with sources that "don't count". Look for phrases like "academic book", "journal article", "peer-reviewed", "empirical research", or "primary/secondary source". 

  • Grading Criteria: Think about what is needed for your assignment to be considered "high-quality" while you are doing your research, and double-check your final work against that list before you turn it in to make sure you’re not missing any points.

  • Style and formatting: It's best to set up your paper using the correct style at the beginning. Writing down your sources in the proper citation format when you find them, or as soon as you decide to use them, will help you when it's time to use those citations in your paper.

If you couldn't find information for one of these categories, ask your professor for clarification right away! 

If you found these items, but have questions about them, write down your questions and bring them to your professor, a librarian, or a tutor.  The sooner you get clear answers, the easier your research assignment will be. 

How do I know who to ask?

Ask a librarian if you need: Ask your professor if you need: Ask a tutor if you need: 
  • Help to choose or adjust your topic/question

  • Help to find sources on a topic, or find specific items

  • Help to understand if you should use/not use a source (and why)

  • Help to find sources that work together (that you can use in the same paper)

  • To learn about a citation style

  • A book/article recommendation that will help kickstart the project

  • Clarification about the assignment after having read the syllabus and assignment instructions

  • Clarification about a term or phrase related to the assignment

  • Help to determine if a source or topic is appropriate for the assignment

  • Help to identify the most important thing to understand /demonstrate for the assignment

  • More information about how will the assignment will be graded

  • Someone to brainstorm with
  • Help to get your ideas organized or to write an outline
  • Someone to proof-read your paper
  • Help formatting citations