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330-701-MS: Arts & Science: History of Western Civilization (Dickson): The research process

This guide contains a resources and research tips intended to help Arts and Science students with their assignments in professor Jennifer Dickson's History Western Civilization course for Arts & Science students.

The research process

Whether you're looking for information from books, journals, films, even information online, you're always using some form the same four-step process. If you were to diagram this process, it would look something like this:

You'll notice that the four boxes in the above diagram (what we'll call the "steps" of the process from here on out) are arranged in a circle, with arrows pointing between them in both directions. This is because the research process isn't linear. There's a lot of back and forth between the steps of the process. You'll always start with a topic selection, which is why it's at the top of the diagram, but, as you conduct research, your research plan may cause you to refocus your topic, or the sources you find may cause you to change your research plan so that you can find new material, or the evaluation of the sources you find may cause you to rethink your topic entirely.

Any time you do a search, you'll likely have to cycle through this process several times before you have everything that you need. The important thing to remember is that this is how it works for everyone. Don't get frustrated, and, if you're stuck, don't hesitate to ask for help.

Now, on to the steps of the process!

Step one: Topic selection

Each time you do research, you always start by choosing a topic. The topic is what you want to research; what you want to know more about. It can be something as simple as "What is the capital city of Sudan?", or something complex, like "What effect does branding have on purchasing decisions among teenagers?" The topic is the question that you want to answer.

If you are having trouble choosing a topic, do not hesitate to consult with your teacher. He/she is an expert in his/her field and can likely give you very useful advice on the viability of a given topic.

Step two: Creating a research plan

Creating a research plan is the next step of the research process. It starts immediately after you've chosen a topic.

When you create a research plan, you're doing two things:

  1. You're deciding where to look for the information you need. Are you going to use the Library Catalogue, one or more of our subscription databases, one or more of our reference databases, a print reference book or even Google? It's important to know where to look for a given type of information because it will make the research process quicker and more efficient.
  2. You're taking your selected topic, and you're turning it into something you can use to search for materials. This is simple process that, when followed correctly, can help you find exactly what your need.

To help you create your own research plan, the Library has put together a step-by-step guide on the Creating a Research Plan page.

Step three: Finding sources

The next step is to take your research plan and use it to find information about your topic.  However, while a research plan helps you get the most out of online catalogues and databases, you also need to know where to look to find what you need. If you need a book, for example, you'll want to look at the Library's Catalogue or in our eBook databases. If you're looking for journal articles, you're better off using one of our journal databases, and so on.

To help you find the resources you need, the Library section of the Marianopolis Website groups resources according to type, so that all the book resources are grouped together, all the journal resources are grouped together, etc.

Also, the Library has created the Primary and secondary sources page to help you with differentiating between primary and secondary sources and to provide you with a few suggested places to start when looking for primary sources.


Step four: Evaluating sources

The "final" step in the research process is possibly also the trickiest part of the research process. In this step, you need to take the sources of information that you've found and figure out if they are reliable, useful and appropriate for your research.

To help you with evaluating sources, the library has put together the Evaluating Information page.

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