wikiHow to Do Research

Five Parts:Defining the Project ScopeFinding ResourcesEvaluating SourcesLogging InformationTackling Roadblocks

A researcher is defined by curiosity, organization and meticulousness. If you are attempting a research project, then finding, evaluating and documenting resources in a methodical way will improve the results of a research project. Define, refine and outline your materials until you have sufficient evidence to write a conclusive report.

Part 1
Defining the Project Scope

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    Determine a good reason why this research needs to be done. Clarify who it will help. The answer may be based on your academic, personal or professional needs, but it should be your motivation for doing a thorough job.
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    Define the problem or question at hand. You should boil the question down to basic terms, time periods and disciplines. Write down any sub-questions that need to be researched before you can answer the question.[1]
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    Consider your thesis. Usually a thesis is a response to a general topic or question being asked. You should have an idea what you would like to use your research for; however, it does not need to be fully formed before you begin the research project.
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    Submit a research proposal, if this is necessary for your teacher, employer or group. Generally, a research proposal is required for research projects that will last more than a few weeks.
    • Term papers, graduate projects and field research projects will require a research proposal that states what problem you would like to solve through investigation.
    • State the problem first, and then explain why the problem is relevant and important for the people to which you will be submitting the research.
    • Include the types of research you would like to conduct, including reading, surveys, gathering statistics or working with specialists.
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    Define your project scope and parameters. The following topics should be determined before you get started:
    • The timeline for the research to take place. You will need a timeline to successfully cover all your bases.
    • A list of topics that should be included in your final report. If you have a syllabus or official assignment, it should explain the scope.
    • The schedule of reviews by teachers or managers, so you can meet progress checks along the way.
    • The number of sources that are required. Generally, the number of sources is commensurate with the length of the paper.
    • The format for your research list, citations and works cited list.

Part 2
Finding Resources

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    Start on the Internet with basic search engines. Type the basic terms of your research question to get a cursory knowledge on the subject.
    • Give preference to websites that are sourced by universities, scientists, government research projects and journals.
    • List any exceptional resources that you would feel comfortable citing.
    • Use plus signs to search for multiple terms when they are used together. For example, “Christmas+Boxing Day.”
    • Use minus signs to exclude search terms. For example, “+Christmas -shopping.”[2]
    • Collect information about the website, such as the published date, the authority that published it and the date you accessed it, as well as the URL.
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    Move on to the library. If possible, use your local college or university library. If a larger library is unavailable, apply for a library card at your public library.
    • Consult a librarian in the reference section to find out what collections, journals and dictionaries the library has access to. For example, the Library of Congress directory will give you access to all books published on a topic. [3]
    • Do background reading, such as historical books, photographs and definitions in a major dictionary.
    • Use the electronic card catalog to access books that can be requested from other libraries.
    • Use the computer lab to access journals and other media that is only available at the library. For example, some scientific journals may only be available on the library computers.
    • Look in the media lab to see what other sources, such as microfiche, movies and interviews are available through the library.
    • Request any promising materials through the reference desk or through your online library account. [4]
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    Schedule interviews with people who have first hand experience with the research topic. Interviews and surveys can provide quotations, direction and statistics that support your research. Interview experts, witnesses and professionals who have conducted relevant research in the past.
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    Organize observational research. Taking a trip to gather information at a relevant location can help to establish a historical and background to your research project. If you are allowed to use opinions in your research report, you will want to note how the research grows and changes from your point of view. [5]
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    Refine your search as you develop a direction with your research. When you decide your thesis, you should break it into sub-topics that you can research online, in a library or with interviews and observational research individually. Remember that you will probably need at least 6 good sources for each 15 pages of your final report.

Part 3
Evaluating Sources

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    Ask whether the source is primary or secondary. Primary sources are evidence, artifacts or documents that originated from people who had direct contact with a situation. Secondary sources are those that discuss information from primary sources.
    • A secondary source could be a point of view or analysis of an original historical event or document. For example, an immigration record would be a primary source, while a newspaper article about a family’s ancestry would be a secondary source.
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    Prefer sources that are objective to those that are subjective. If the narrator of an account is not personally connected to the subject, they are more likely to remain objective.
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    Give preference to sources that have been published in print. Web sources usually feature less strict controls than articles published in journals or books.
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    Look for contrasting sources. Subjective sources that take opposing points of view can be extremely important, because they are able to give a larger view of the issue. Find “pain points” in your argument and document any possible ways to deal with them.
    • It is easy to conduct research that supports your thesis. Try to find resources that disagree with your thesis so that you can handle objections to your project.
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    Evaluate whether the source is relevant and/or flawed before using the research for your project. Keep your sources separate until you determine you want the source to be part of your research. Although helpful in the research process, some resources will not be sufficiently valuable to support published research.

Part 4
Logging Information

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    Keep a notebook. Write down questions posed by your research followed by sources and the answers you found. Reference the page numbers, URLs and sources that answer those questions.
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    Annotate all text. Photocopy your printed sources and take notes on visual or audio sources. Make notes in the margins about any terms that must be defined, relevance to your research topic and sources that build on each other.
    • Use a highlighter and a pencil on photocopies. You should do this as you read it, rather than returning to do it at a later date.
    • Annotation promoted active reading.
    • Keep a list of citations that may be useful in your report.
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    Keep a file, so that you can keep all of your research together. Separate it into folders according to different topics, if possible. You can also use an electronic filing system, like Evernote to keep scans, websites and notes together.
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    Develop an outline as you go along. Separate the topics you need to break down by number. Then letter the sub-topics that you must research and report on.

Part 5
Tackling Roadblocks

  1. Image titled Do Research Step 20
    Don’t “bootstrap. Don’t base your thesis on generalizations that are made previous research papers. Try not to assume that a past approach is the only approach.
    • Step away from your research for a few days, so that you see it with fresh eyes. Take a break every week, just as you would with a job.
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    Talk about your research to someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic. Try to explain what you’ve found. Ask the person to ask questions that arise as they hear about the topic to see the topic with fresh eyes.
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    Try to find sources in different disciplines. If you have been approaching a subject from an anthropological perspective, try papers in sociology, biology or another field. Expand your sources through your library’s reference section.
  4. Image titled Do Research Step 23
    Begin writing. Start filling in your outline. As you write, you will decide which sub-sections require more research.

Things You'll Need

  • Library card
  • Notebook
  • Highlighter
  • Photocopier
  • Pencil
  • Folders
  • Outline
  • Evernote

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