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Research Help: Getting Started

High Library's Virtual Reference Desk

Ten Steps to Research Success: The Assignment Calculator

Regardless of what you are researching, the research process is similar. Below, the steps to writing a research paper are outlined, and each step has links to help navigate and illustrate the concept.

1. Getting Started with Your Assignment

1. Get Started

               -Understand Your Assignment

               -Identify Your Audience/Purpose

               -Select a Topic

2. Find Background Information

2. Find Background Information

-Explore Credo

-Ask a Librarian

Why Use the Library

The High Library at Etown and, in fact, any library, is much more than Google. Google can be a great resource, especially when you are starting out. But college professors won’t want you to stop there. They want you to find information that other scholars have reviewed, often called “peer-reviewed” or “scholarly” articles. In addition, they might ask you to use books, multimedia or other sorts of documents. (See the next step, “Use Different Types of Sources.”)        

The High Library subscribes to over a hundred databases so you can have access to scholarly and peer-reviewed articles. Your gateway to this info is via the Databases & Articles  link on the library home page or any of the Research Guides .

These subscription databases are to Google what cable television is to free TV. You just won’t find the same quality resources in Google. So give them a try!

Feel like you need help getting beyond Google?

Check out the help options on our Ask A Librarian page. They range from texting us to making an appointment for in-person help—it’s your choice.

3. Develop a Research Question

3. Develop a Research Question

               -Narrow/Broaden Your Topic

               -Develop a Working Thesis

4. Research Your Topic

4. Research Your Topic

               -Use Your Research Guide

               -Develop Search Strategies

               -Find Books

               -Find Articles

5. Read Your Sources

5. Read Your Sources

               -Take Good Notes

6. Cite Your Sources and Avoid Plagiarism

6. Cite Your Sources and Avoid Plagiarism

               -Create a Bibliography

               -Use Zotero

7. Plan Your Paper

7. Plan Your Paper

               -Organize Your Argument

               -Outline Your Paper

8. Write Your First Draft

8. Write Your First Draft

               -Write Effectively

               -Integrate Your Sources

               -Get Help from a Writing Tutor

9a. Revise and Rewrite

9a. Do Additional Research

When you are evaluating your first draft, are there a few points that you might need to illustrate with some extra facts or statistics? Do you need one more article to support a particular point of view?

This is a good time to ask a librarian for help, as they might be able to give you some search tips for finding what you need quickly.

You also might want to try the advanced search features in some of the article databases by searching for: 

  • Articles by authors you have already quoted. Perhaps they’ve published other articles on your topic.
  • Additional articles that have been published in a journal you’ve already found useful. Many databases let you search for keywords or subjects limited to a particular newspaper, journal or magazine.

If you have used databases that cover a wide range of subjects for your research so far, consider using a more specialized database that will only provide you with articles within a particular subject area. Find suggested databases in the Research Guides.

9b. Revise and Rewrite

9b. Revise Your Work

Put your first draft aside in order to get distance from it, so that when you return to it, you will see it as much as possible from the objective viewpoint of your audience. Then, read the draft aloud, perhaps to a friend who can help you evaluate it, but at least to yourself. On first reading, look and listen only for problems with its content. Does it achieve its goal of persuading the audience? If not, why not? Perhaps some points need more examples or explanation to make them clear and persuasive, or perhaps some assertions need further backing by expert opinion or statistics. This might be the time when you discover that you need to do more research. If you do, it’s time to make a list of the information you must find, and head back to the library.

When your argument is as fully developed and persuasive as you can make it, write your thesis statement at the top of a piece of paper. Then reread the draft and, as you go, make an informal outline by jotting down the topic of each paragraph.  Even though you worked with an outline as your wrote your first draft, try this retrospective outline. It will tell you much about several facets of your paper:

  • Paragraph unity. As you made your retrospective outline, did you have trouble determining the topic of any paragraph? If so, you might need to rework that paragraph to make sure it addresses a single clear subject.
  • The paper’s focus. Check each paragraph’s topic against your thesis statement in order to make sure that your draft sticks to its thesis. Any topic that doesn’t relate to the thesis represents a digression that you should cut.
  • The paper’s organization. Check your informal outline to make sure it reflects a clear, strategic organization.

Next, scrutinize each paragraph. If you’ve cited sources in it, have you coherently integrated each source into your text? In the body of the paragraph, does each sentence connect clearly and logically to the next? Do you have a coherent transition from each paragraph to the next? When you’re satisfied with your paragraphs, tackle sentence-level revision:

  • Replace unnecessary passive verbs with active ones.
  • Cut wordiness.
  • Vary sentence length and structure.
  • Replace vague words with specific ones.
  • Substitute well chosen words for misused ones.

When you’ve finished revising, edit. Carefully look for and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Avoid the temptation to rely solely on your computer’s grammar checker and spell checker; lots of problems escape them.

This section courtesy of and copyrighted by Tufts University.

10. Put Your Paper in Final Form

10. Proofread Your Paper

Proofreading is a careful search for typos, omitted words, and other little errors that inevitably creep into an essay. Proofreading your own work can be difficult because you know what’s supposed to be on the page, and you might see what should be there rather than what is there. And proofreading can be especially difficult if you’re bleary-eyed from staring at your paper on your computer screen. Try printing a hard copy of the paper, putting it in a new form that will make you look at it with a fresh eye. You might also proofread your paper backwards, starting with the last sentence and moving to the first, in order to remove each sentence from its context and see that sentence as a new, discrete unit in itself. Mechanical errors will stand out.

Whatever proofreading method you choose, remember not to rely on your spell checker to catch typos. It will flag some, but leave others. For instance, take another look at the first sentence of this paragraph. If I had mistakenly typed, “Whatever proofreading method you choose, remember now to rely on your spell checker to catch typos,” my spell checker would not have caught the mistake, and I would have said the opposite of what I meant.

When you conscientiously proofread your paper, you tell your readers that you care about what you’ve said in it--and that they should, too.

This section courtesy of and copyrighted by Tufts University.