• The Research Process

    Step 1: Getting Started

    Getting started in a research paper can seem like the most overwhelming part. It does not need to be that way! Follow these steps to get off on the right track:

    A.    Select a topic. Generally, your teacher will give you a list of topics to choose from.  Perhaps you will be assigned a specific topic instead. If given the choice, it is worth it to look into a few topics and choose one that will hold your interest for the duration of the project. 

    B.    Gather background information. Next, gather some basic background information about your topic. Encyclopedias are excellent sources for background information. BE CAREFUL, however, not all teachers will allow you to cite encyclopedia sources in the text of your paper because information presented in encyclopedia sources is considered to be general knowledge. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, however, to get some background on your topic, especially if you know very little about your topic to begin with. You just may not be able to cite information from it in the text of your paper. You can access encyclopedia sites from the Salamanca Jr./Sr. High School Library Web page. 

    Go to:  www.salamancany.org
       ·    Select “Jr./Sr. High School Library”
       ·   Select “Subscription Databases”
       ·   Choose either Britannica or World Book from the list. Usernames and passwords for these sites are available in the library as well as in your MLA packet. 
    Once you have found a good article or two, read them thoroughly. Read more articles if you need further clarification on the background of your topic.

    C.    Form a research question. Now that you have some background on your topic, you’ve probably realized that there is an awful lot of information out there about it!  Your job now is to narrow your topic by creating a focused research  question. Your question will drive your research and help you to determine what information is relevant to your work and what is not. Your question should be refined enough to answer in the number of pages that you are assigned to write.
    Look at this example:
    Topic: Railroads in the United States during the Industrial Revolution
    Research Question: How did the development of railroads help to industrialize the United States during the 1800s?
    Need more examples? Check out this link. It has 75 sample research questions for US History! This database, GALE Opposing Viewpoints, has a plethora of popular and controversial topics to use for creating your question.

    When you have created your research question, write in on the Keyword Chart that was distributed in class. Need another copy? Download it here.  Remember that your research question CAN be changed as you progress in your research. The entire process is flexible!

    D.    Identify key concepts in your question. Once you have a question that you are comfortable with, identify the most important concepts from that question. Being able to identify the most important concepts will help you to locate information more quickly and efficiently later on.

    Let’s return to our example: 
    How did the development of railroads help to industrialize the United States during the 1800s?

    The most important key concepts are:

                                         Railroads                  Industrialization                 United States

    Write these key concepts on your Keyword Chart. 

    E.     Identify synonyms. Not everyone will think about your topic using the same words that you do! Taking some time to come up with words that are synonyms for your key concepts in this context will help you to use databases, indexes, and tables of contents more efficiently. Your Keyword Chart has a table for these synonyms. List your original key concepts along the first row. Then identify synonyms to add to the list.  You can probably locate some excellent synonyms from the background encyclopedia articles that you just read! You can add to this chart throughout the research process. Check out the example below: 

    Key  Concept #1





    Key Concept #2






    Key Concept #3







     United States




    Industrial Revolution










    You may not need to fill in the entire chart. Fill in as much as you can and still remain relevant to your topic.  You
    will then be able to use these words to help you locate information in yours sources. You can:
    ·   Look up these terms in the tables of contents and indexes of books
    ·   Combine terms from each column to search in databases as in these examples:
    o  Railroads and Industrial Revolution
    o  Trains and Industrial Revolution
    o  Railroads and Unites States
    o  Trains and United States
    o  Railroads and Industrialization and United States
    o  Railroads and Industrial Revolution and United States
    o  Railroads and 1800s and United States
    o  Trains and 1800s and America
    ·   The combinations could be endless. It is a bit of a trial and error process. Keep trying different 
         combinations of terms until you find the information that you
    are looking for!
    ·   Search these terms in the Subject Guides in the databases.

    Before you move on, be sure that you have:
    o  Selected an interesting topic
    o  Gathered background information on the topic
    o  Created a refined and focused research question (Keyword Chart)
    o  Identified key concepts from your question (Keyword Chart)
    o  Brainstormed a list of synonyms (Keyword Chart)