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The Research Process

The research process consists of several steps, and let's face it, these steps can be overwhelming if you don't have the knowledge and skills to lead you through it. This six step guide will help you on your journey. Put on your thinking we go!


Define the problem or purpose.
Identify the information needed.
First: Identify a topic.
    To clarify your thoughts and focus your topic, try stating your topic as various questions.
    For example, if your topic is drinking and driving, you could ask questions like: How does drinking affect driving? What are the laws on drinking and driving? What are the current statistics on drinking and driving?
Second: Identify the main concepts/keywords in the question/topic.
    Brainstorming in outline form is a good place to start to help you identify main topics or keywords. These are the words you will use when you search through online databases and in indexes in print materials. Think of it as pulling out 'key' words or phrases that you will continually look for in your sources.  So for the topic of drinking and driving you might look for keywords such as causes, effects, laws, statistics, processes, etc.
Third: Test your topic.
    Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by seeking sources by using them as search terms in our catalog or in one of the SD State Library databases.


Determine all possible source types which best fit your purpose.


Locate sources (both physically and intellectually).
Find information within those sources.
    Start on the shallow end! Locate sources that provide background information such as online or print encyclopedias, textbooks, indexes, and even reliable websites. These types sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and will tell you in general terms what is known about your topic.  
           Now that you understand the overall picture, dive in to the deep end!  
           Dig for really good, rich sources like primary sourcesarticles from databases,  print books, and scholarly articles.
           Even use your source's sources! Note any useful sources (books, journals, or websites) that you are directed to in that source
           either by a listing in the bibliography/works cited or by a hyperlink.  This is very useful when using Wikipedia.


Engage in the sources by reading, listening, viewing. 
Extract relevant information.
  • Create source cards to help organize your sources.
  • Take notes from your sources using direct quotes and indirect quotes. Determine if the information should be cited.
  • Takes notes by long hand or use a digital notetaker like Evernote, MS Word, or Google Docs.
  • Create a working reference page 
    • bibliography is a listing of all the sources you have consulted in preparing for your paper or project even if you don't directly use quotes from them.
    • works cited which lists only the sources you actually cited in your paper. 


Organize your information.
Present the information.
  • Create a preliminary thesis. Remember, you might adjust your thesis as you write your paper.
  • Based on your preliminary outline, begin writing your paper or completing your project by combining your background knowledge and your sources' information to back up your claim.
  • Make sure to use parenthetical citation to give credit to the source.  If you don't, remember, you are plagiarizing.
  • Finalize your outline.
  • Finalize your works cited or bibliography


Judge the product for effectiveness.
       Did you produce awesome results? Did your end result produce the results required?

Judge the process for efficiency.  
        Was your process time and energy effective? What, if anything, could you do                           differently next time?

Sources:  The OWL at Purdue and The Big 6.
SD Library Standards
#1: Students will use a process of questioning, accessing, evaluating, & applying information to share & create new knowledge.
#2: Students will read, view, listen, speak & write to investigate, explore, create & communicate for academic & personal growth.
#3: Students will use information & its tools in a responsible, safe, legal & ethical manner.