Skip to Main Content

How to Research

Research Tips

                Research Tips

   Research is a process that takes time. This page will give students research tips and tricks to make their research more effective and efficient. 

   Students will learn:

  • How to get started with research by outlining and planning out the research process.
  • Learn what resources are available.
  • Common search strategies and ways to troubleshoot any issues encountered in the research process.



Note: This page is intended to complement other pages contained in this guide.

Getting Started with Research

Plan Ahead

Research is a process that takes time. Expect to spend 50% of your time researching and 50% writing.

The research process includes the following steps:

  1. Choose a topic. Select a topic that interests you. To help you come up with a research topic you may want to consult news articles for current events, read through your assignment description for background material, or select an area within your field of study that interests you. Check out our guide on how to define your topic for more details.
  2. Get a good understanding of the subject. You may want to consult search engines, books or eBooks, or even Wikipedia. Reading about a subject will help you formulate a research question and create meaningful search terms.
  3. Research. This includes finding relevant sources, reading them, making notes, and creating citations. Check out our guides on how to use library and web resources for your research.
  4. Outline. With the knowledge you have gained from both your background reading and formal research, create an outline of your paper. Create an outline of your research paper by creating headings and sub-headings with introductory sentences. Develop your thesis statement and include it in your introductory paragraph. For tips on how to structure an APA style research paper, see our citation style guide.
  5. Write.  Now it is time to put all of the work that you have done so far with defining the topic, doing the research and outline together with your own ideas and analysis to complete the written requirements for the assignment.
  6. Review. Finally, do not forget to proofread your paper.  


Schedule Your Research

Now that we know all of the steps involved in writing a paper, we can plan out a schedule consisting of milestones to be accomplished by pre-determined dates.


  • Email my professor with my research topic by October 5th.
  • Conduct background research on my topic by October 7th.
  • Find 10 scholarly resources about my topic by October 14th.
  • Complete my research paper outline by October 21st.
  • Finish writing my research paper by October 28th.

Find a Research System that Works for You

Before you begin researching, plan how you will collect and organize your notes.

Digital Notetaking
  • If you are interested in taking your research notes digitally, consider creating a dedicated Google Doc or Word document. Alternatively, you may want to track your information using reference management software (e.g., Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote Basic).
Manual Notetaking
  • If you are interested in tracking all of your research on paper, consider using a one-subject notebook or a folder.
Best Practices
  • Give each resource its own dedicated page and at the top of each dedicated page, including the resource's citation, including a permalink or a DOI (digital object identifier) to the original source. Below the citation is where you can make your notes. 
  • Make sure to include any page numbers where you found your information or quotations from. This ties your notes back to the original source, which makes inserting references into your writing easier.
  • When possible, paraphrase as much as possible rather than copy down direct quotations. Not only will this help you understand the topic or resource better, but it will also improve your writing.

Know Your Resources

Before you start researching, you need to know what resources are available to you.

Note: If you are unsure which resources are needed, consult your assignment description or professor.
Library Resources

The library contains a plethora of resources, including databases.

Getting Started with Library Databases

  • Visit your program-specific subject guide to find out which databases may be most relevant to you.
  • Start with broad, multidisciplinary databases:
Web Resources

The Internet also contains many resources you can access, often for free. There are search engines (e.g., Google, Duck Duck Go), academic search engines (e.g., Google Scholar), digital repositories, Wikis, social media, videos, and more. 

Note: When using web resources, make sure you evaluate your sources for quality.

Search Strategies

Publication Dates

Be attentive to when a source was published.

  • Some professors will require students to only include sources that were published within the last 5 or 10 years. Always check your assignment description for clarification.
  • While it is generally okay to use some older sources, make sure that the majority of the sources you include are more recent. Of course, this rule of thumb differs between academic disciplines.
  • If when you are researching a topic and there appears to be no recent research (within the past decade), the field has likely moved on or evolved. This may indicate that you may need to rework your research question.

Leaders in the Field

Question. What constitutes a leader in research?
Answer. Someone who has created a field of study, a theory or model, etc.

A great starting place for research is to discover who the leaders are within your field of research

  • Use a search engine to find out who the major researchers are within the field of research you are looking into. This is a great starting place, especially for annotated bibliographies and literature reviews.
  • Consider searching through Wikipedia pages on relevant models or theories. Wikipedia is a useful tool because it gives a concise overview of the subject and provides useful links to sources. You may also come across the professional websites of researchers, which may contain their publications and professional or academic affiliations.

Once you have found the names, and perhaps major works, of a few leaders, you can:

  • Attempt to search for either the author's name or the title of their research into your library's database(s).
  • You can also use tools like Google Scholar to see what else the leader has published and where their articles have been cited.
  • If you know what institution(s) a leader is affiliated with, you can check for their articles in institutional repositories (e.g., Scholarship@Western) or in academic social networking sites, like ResearchGate.

Mine Bibliographies

Step 1: Skim Bibliographies

Once you have found a great source, whether it is a book or article, skim through the references/bibliography and make note of all the titles that interest you or may be relevant to your research. This is also a great time to see what authors have contributed research to the subject. 

Step 2: Searching for Articles. 

Search for either the title, title and author, or full citation of each source you have made note of in your library's database.

If the library has the article, perfect!
If not, well, not all is lost. You have a few options at your disposal:

  1. Search in an academic search engine, like Google Scholar, to retrieve an open access version of an article. The easiest way to do this is to copy and paste the full citation into Google Scholar.
  2. Ask a library technician if they can help you look for the article in other library databases.
Step 3:  Searching for Authors

To find an author's body of work, you can search the author's name:

  • In a library database (or discovery service, if that is what you prefer).
  • In a search engine, where you may be able to find a professional website containing an author's body of work.
  • In an academic search engine, like Google Scholar's author search, particularly if they have created an author profile. It may be beneficial to include the author's professional affiliation (e.g., a college or university) in your search.
  • In an academic social networking site, like ResearchGate.

Database Filters

Research can be long and tedious. Here are some tried-and-true tips to help you find sources more efficiently:

  • When searching in library databases, add filters to your search to help you find the results that are most relevant to you. 
    • Full-Text filter. Library databases index citations, abstracts, and full-length articles, book chapters, news reports, eBooks, etc. To ensure you only receive search results that contain full articles, select the full-text filter.
    • Publication Date filter. By selecting a date range, this filter will help you find recent research.
    • Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journals filter. This filter will only retrieve scholarly articles that have been through a peer-review process. Some professors require students to only cite scholarly, or peer-reviewed, sources in assignments.
    • Source Type filters. You can further narrow your search by selecting a specific source, such as academic journals, news, magazines, trade publications, books, reports reviews, etc. This is useful if you require a specific type of source, such as news articles.


Filtering Articles

  • To determine if a resource may be useful for you, read the abstract, introductory paragraph, and concluding paragraph. If you like what you see, you can commit the time to read the full article.
  • If you have large blocks of text or need to find specific words or phrases within an eBook or article, use the "Find" feature of your browser or program (Ctrl+F for Windows users or Cmd+F for MAC users).

Making Connections

You may have already come up with a research question, or at least a topic, to research. It is fairly likely that your research question or topic is multifaceted or complex. Fear not - we will provide you with a few tips to get you started with your research.

  • Do some background research on your topic. This will not only help you understand the topic in more depth but will also help you pick out key concepts.
  • Do not try to tackle your topic all at once. You are not likely to find the perfect article that seeks to explain or answer all aspects of your research question. This is perfectly okay - you are researching, after all.
  • Create an outline of all the key concepts of your topic. From here, research each individual piece on its own. See how to create keywords and search terms in our Define a Topic guide.
  • It will not take long before you start finding connections between the key concepts of your topic. These connections will become the basis of your research.