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Library Research Process

This guide provides introductory information and tips on the research process.

Research Overview: We do not end up where we began

When we research, we aren't trying to support our position, we are investigating the question. 

The point of absorbing new information is the possibility of changing our mind. 

We should end up in a different place concerning the question: 

  • understand it more deeply
  • correct some misconceptions
  • add some new perspectives, especially those that disagree with us

The final synthesis, the paper we write, reflects our growth in understanding. It shows we have changed. 


There's a Strategy Behind Good Research

Infographic describes the steps of the research process: information need; background info; find materials; read and evaluate; organize, write, and cite.

Infographic by Sara Lowe, Associate Dean for Educational Services, IUPUI University Library. 

What does that infographic mean? 

A logical approach to an information need yields better results. 

1. Define the information need. Figuring out a workable topic is itself a process. 

2. Start looking for general info in places you are used to looking:  Google, textbooks, Wikipedia. We call this Presearch.

  • The goal of this step is general understanding, and the beginning of a word list

3. Now look for usable academic resources: articles, book chapters, reliable news.

4. Ruthlessly Evaluate each source. Allow only authoritative writing into your synthesis.

5. Stay organized. Adopt a system, like Zotero, to track your sources. 

  •  Get help writing from the SWC. 
  •  Cite everything. Give credit where credit is due; quote accurately. 

What this infographic doesn't say:  It's all a lot messier than this.  

Research is seldom a straight line; it's recursive, iterative, frustrating

  • Just when you think you've got a handle on it, a new term appears and you have to go back to the databases and try it... 
  • The more you learn, the more clear it becomes that your topic is THAT, not THIS, and you have to go back...
  • Or you start tracing the citations on this article only to discover something really important came before it...
    • It's also deeply satisfying puzzle-solving, brain-straining good work, the soul of the academic enterprise. 

And librarians are always by your side ready to help out. Please just ask us.