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300-M01-MS: Intellectual Methods in Social Science: The research process

This guide will help you with the Library research skills discussed as part of the Library assignment for the 300-M01-MS: Intellectual Methods in Social Science course. This includes discussions of techniques as well as reliable sources.

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. This is because the research process isn't entirely linear. While one step of the process leads to the next, there is still a lot of back and forth between the steps, and a need to cycle back through earlier steps to refine and improve your searches. 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 start by choosing a topic, sometimes called a research question. 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.

In the case of Intellectual Methods, you will be assigned a research question that you will use for their research.

Step Two: Creating a research plan

Creating a research plan is the next step of the research process. It starts immediately after you've decided on 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 topic (in the case of Intellectual Methods, this will be your pre-assigned research question), and you're turning it into something you can use to search for materials. This is a simple process that, when followed correctly, can help you find exactly what you 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 pre-assigned research question.  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. . . .

To help you with finding appropriate sources specifically for your Research Methods project, the Library has assembled the Finding Sources page.

Step four: Evaluating sources

The "final" step in the research process is possibly also the trickiest. 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 evaluate sources, the library has put together the Evaluating Information page.

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