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Doing Research

Understanding the research process

From search to research
Questions requiring a simple search

You already know from your everyday experience that there are questions that can be answered with a simple “Google search”. Imagine that you are looking for the 2018 world cup winner, or which cinema, near your home, plays the Bohemian Rhapsody film. If you “Google” these questions you will get the answers you need, on the top of the first page of your results list, in less than 35sec.

Questions requiring research

However, as a college student you often try to answer questions like “how does divorce affect the academic performance of teenage students?” This type of question requires repetitive searches to find a good answer. Basically because the answer is not based on quick facts but it is based on ongoing conversations that take place between communities of scholars, researchers and professionals which publish their studies as journal articles or books.

What is research anyway?

Research is the systematic investigation of a topic. You often start with a question which they want to explore with the intention to reveal new facts, theories, principles, or discover the current state of knowledge of the subject. Research is a repetitive process which requires multiple searches.

Google it or Library it?

You can start exploring a topic with Google. It is a great readily available tool that will reveal sources which are freely available on the web. However, you will soon find out that most academic sources are not available for free, as publishers use the internet to showcase their publications but do not allow free access. This is why you should also use your college library. Your library offers you access to several online resources through subscription databases. Your library also offers you access to print sources as not all sources are yet in digital form. So both, Google and your library should be used in the research process

The (re)search cycle

If you want to visualize the research process you could imagine it as cycle of actions. However, you will not be able to ignore that at each stage of the cycle you will be experiencing different feelings.

Uncertainty: Researchers tend to enter the research process experiencing uncertainty. This is a natural response as when you enter the research process, you don’t have a topic and you need to find one, or you have a topic but you don’t know where to start. This means that you haven’t clearly defined your information needs yet.

Optimism: As soon as you define your topic or you identify where you should start your research, a sense of optimism makes you feel better and ready to start.

Confusion & frustration: You design your research strategy but this brings up unpleasant feelings again, like confusion and frustration. Basically, because there are many strategies that you could develop and you don’t know if you have chosen the one that will return the best results to help you support and develop your topic.

Clarity & confidence: You access and retrieve information sources. This will give you a sense of confidence and will clearly identify how you should develop your topic.

Satisfaction: You evaluate the information you find, which may finally provide you with a sense of satisfaction. At this stage you decide about the quality of the information you find and how this fits to support your arguments.

Does it ever end?

Nevertheless, at any point of the research cycle you may have to redefine, redesign or reevaluate your information need, your topic, the resources, or the topic development. This will bring you back to the cycle. The starting point is never clear. You may enter or exit the cycle at any point of the process. Even when you finalize your research, new questions will emerge and you or other researchers may wish to delve in the research process and produce new knowledge all over again.

Preparing for research

Practical tips that can help you prepare for the research process and enter it with more confidence.


Comfort Tips

Mechanical Tips

Psychological Tips

Find the place that best works for you to study and write. Is it your college library or your own room? Bookmark the library website and find out when the physical library is open. Start the research process early if you are a procrastinator, otherwise you are taking the risk to do too little.
Decide if it works for you to work quietly or with a little distraction such as background music.

Identify the log-in or authentication procedure for accessing library resources from off campus.

Try not to cover everything if you are a perfectionist, otherwise you are taking the risk to miss your focus.
Avoid distractions from your social environment like roommates, family members, and online social media networks.

Issue a photocopy and printing card as some of the resources may be in print format.

Contact a librarian at [email protected] or come by the library to find us. We can help you find resources and strategically plan your research. You will feel that you are not alone in this process.

Determine the time you enjoy doing mentally engaging work. Is it early in the morning or later in the day? Get a removable storage device or access Google Drive or dropbox to save your papers and store sources of information.