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How To: Begin Your Research


Getting Started

Research is a process and requires a plan. Let's get started!

But first, make sure to read your syllabus and the assignment prompt carefully so that you understand:

  • Whether this is a group or individual project
  • When the project is due
  • What kinds of evidence or sources you are being asked to provide
  • What you will be graded on (especially if there is a rubric)

How to Select a Topic

What should you consider before choosing your topic?
  • Choose something that interests you
  • Think about how long the paper or presentation must be
  • Think about how much time you have to complete your research

If you're not sure how much time to devote to the different pieces of your research, try using an assignment calculator (such as this one from the University of Minnesota).

Tip:  Do some background reading before making a decision!

If you don’t know much about the topic that you're considering, try searching Credo Reference and using their mind mapping tool.

SingleSearch is a great place to begin!

Here are some popular databases that will help you get started!

Your Research Question

What is a research question?

A research question is the question around which you center your research. It should be:

  • clear: provides enough specifics that one’s audience can easily understand its purpose without needing additional explanation.
  • focused: inarrow enough that it can be answered thoroughly in the space the writing task allows.
  • complex: not answerable with a simple “yes” or “no,” but rather requires synthesis and analysis of ideas and sources prior to composition of an answer.
  • arguable: potential answers are open to debate rather than accepted facts.


Steps to developing a research question.
  1. Make sure you are clear on the parameters of your paper. How long is your paper? How much time do you have to devote to your project? What types of sources will you be using? What type of evidence will you need to provide?
  2. Choose a topic you are truly curious about exploring in depth.
  3. Do some preliminary research on your topic. What has already been done? What are scholars in your area discussing? Are there any current issues? What questions do you have after exploring your general topic?
  4. Ask open-ended questions about your general topic using "how" and "why" statements. For example, "How does improvisation relate to oral tradition and contribute to regional or localized development of African American cuisine?"  "How do different schools of yoga use improvisation in practice, specifically with regard to asana?"  "How does improvisation contribute to performance and performance anxiety in the entrepreneurial world?"
  5. Evaluate your question. Is it clear?  Is it focused? Will it require research and analysis in order to answer?
  6. Begin your research. What sources will you consult? What keywords will contribute to an effective search strategy?
  7. Refine your question as you continue your research.

Very Short Introductions

Introductory texts on all manner of subjects. Here is but a sampling!