The Research Process

Research is an important part of academic life. In fact, research is an important skill for everyday life. Research skills such as finding background information, locating credible evidence to support viewpoints, and evaluating information are useful in fields from politics to advertising. Let's go over the steps for conducting research.

Choose a good topic.

This is the first stage of research. You may start with a broad subject for research, but you eventually need to narrow your focus to a more specific topic. To shortlist a good topic, you can choose to brainstorm, read up, or prepare a list of questions that you want to answer with your research. Most important, choose a topic that interests you.

Find background information.

The next step is to find general information about your chosen topic. At this stage, you can conduct a light Internet search or read encyclopedia articles about your topic. Your goal is to read the most general information you can find just to get some background on your topic. This will help you became familiar with the topic and help you decide what aspect seems most interesting to you personally. In other words, this step helps you narrow down what you would like to work on.

Identify key sources.

At this stage, your research will become more focused as you explore your chosen aspect in more detail. Make a list of key questions you want to answer through your research. Collect as many sources as you can that have information to answer your questions.

Evaluate your sources.

At this point, you will check your information to see if it is relevant and reliable. You can make sure that your sources are reliable taking a few simple actions:

  • Make sure that any books or journal articles you refer to are written by experts on your chosen topic.
  • Make sure that your information is from academic journals as much as possible.
  • You can interview experts on your chosen topic for more information.

If you are using online sources, remember these guidelines:

  • Only use sources that end in .edu (school and college websites) and .gov (government websites).
  • Use .org sites (not-for-profit organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank) if they are reliable.
  • Check the reliability of the page. You can do this by looking for the author’s name and credentials.
  • Check the site for accuracy. Is it biased? How does the information compare with information from sources such as books and newspapers?
  • Try to use sites that have no advertising. If there is advertising, check whether it is related to the content. Is the site trying to sell you something? Is its information geared toward selling you something? If this is the case, find some other source.
  • Make sure that the information and the page are current. If the site hasn’t been updated, the information may turn out to be irrelevant to your research.

Use strong sources as supporting evidence.

Once you have decided on the arguments you will make in your essay, use your strongest sources to support them. Select the sources that are most relevant to your research questions.

Cite sources correctly in your paper.

When you use evidence from external sources to support your thesis, you need to properly credit the sources. Look at the following examples for citing online sources based on the MLA (Modern Language Association) style:


Editor, author, or compiler name (if available). Name of Site. Version number. Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available). Medium of publication. Date of access.

Jim Wilson. NASA. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

Article from a Website

Author’s name (if available). “Article title.” Website title. Publisher name, date published. Page number(s) (if available). Medium of publication. Date of access.

“How Do We Know that Humans Are the Major Cause of Global Warming?” Union of Concerned Scientists: Science for a healthy planet and safer world. Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.