Research is easier when you think of it as a process. Don’t try to find everything at once; your topic will evolve as you learn more about it. You can save time by working through the process in these steps:
1. Craft a research question
Write your research topic as a question. This will help you narrow your topic and give you a few search words. You'll find synonyms when you're searching. Write these down, too!
How to craft a research question? The most productive research questions can't be answered with a yes or a no. Research questions should invite exploration of a topic; they often begin with words like, "How..." or "Why..." In order to come up with a "How...." or a "Why..." question, sample the literature on your topic: Go to Summon (http://go.middlebury.edu/summon), enter a few search terms, and see what others have written. What do you see that interests you?
Sometimes, even after sampling the literature, it can be difficult to commit to a specific question. Don't worry! Start with any question on your topic and search for sources that help you answer that question. As you read, you'll get a better understanding of the historical context, key concepts, and important figures that tend to come up when other scholars and journalists write about your topic. At that point, you can revise your question. What interests you now? What are you curious to know more about? Answering these questions will help you formulate a productive research question.
2. Search for background info
Background information will help you begin to understand your topic. Look for encyclopedias, newspapers, popular magazines and books.
3. Preview, evaluate and refine
Take a quick look at your sources. Preview each by reading the abstract/summary, introduction and conclusion. If you’re still not sure what the source is about, skim the beginning of each section. Evaluate the sources. Are they useful? Then, refine your research topic. Now that you know more, what would points would you like to make in your paper? Have your research questions changed? What more do you need to know?
4. Answer new or revised research questions
Scholarly journal articles can provide answers to more specific research questions.
5. Read, organize, write and revise
After you’ve read all of your sources more carefully, you’re ready to organize your thoughts and start writing. Consider getting in touch with a peer writing tutor for advice. Also consult Writing Guides, created by the Peer Writing Tutors.
Keep a record of your sources throughout the research process. Write down – or better yet, store electronically – the citation information for each source, including author, title, page numbers, date, and publisher. Take notes on what each source says (don't forget the page numbers so that you can find and cite the information later), and how you might use the source in your paper. Citation tools like Zotero and RefWorks make it easy to collect and organize your sources; find them in the Middlebury Libraries Citation and Styles Research Guide. When you’re done writing, citation tools also will help you create your notes and bibliography.