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Research 101

In this guide, you’ll learn about the steps in the research process including how to develop a research question, identify keywords, find, evaluate, and cite information sources and more.


Figure 1. The Research Process. Think of research as a process where you're taking various steps to develop a research question, find and evaluate reputable sources, write, cite, and repeat. Keep in mind that research is not a one-directional or linear process. Instead, you'll find yourself jumping back and forth and repeating various steps throughout the entirety of the research process. Be patient with yourself and the process! 

The Research Process

What is the Research Process?

Many people falsely believe that research is a linear process; you pick a topic, find some sources, write your paper, and hand it in. In reality, the process is more like a winding path that circles back at various points. You should approach the research process with the attitude of an explorer where you start with a question(s) and seek information to answer that question(s). You should follow your curiosity and the sources you find until you narrow your topic to a unique research question. When you do research and write about it, you are entering a scholarly conversation and finding out what experts and scholars have to say about your topic. That scholarly conversation exists in articles, books, presentations, conferences, online discussions, and more; it has (most likely) been going on for a long time, and now, it's your turn to join in and craft your own argument.

A quotation bubble with a text description of the research process as a winding path and not linear. Caption says Think of research as an exploration, with unexpected twists and turns.

Think of research as an exploration, with unexpected twists and turns. 

The following are steps in the research process, some of which may repeat:

  • Choose and narrow a topic
  • Gather background information on your topic
  • Write a research question
  • Develop a working thesis statement
  • Find and evaluate information sources
  • Cite your sources
  • Write and edit your research paper
  • Repeat any steps as necessary

In the following pages, you'll learn more about the steps in the research process and how one of the first steps in this process, choosing your topic, IS research.

Know Your Assignment Guidelines

Before you pick a topic and look for sources, you must read and understand your assignment description and guidelines.

Make sure you understand your research assignment. Consider important information such as theme/topic, purpose, length, required information source types, citation style, and the due date. Talk to your Instructor and/or a Librarian if you have any questions.

When deciding on a topic, think about your interests. What would you like to spend time learning more about? Look over your course materials and lecture notes for ideas. Keep track of topic ideas by writing down a list of keywords and phrases. For topic ideas, consider using one of Cuesta Library's databases such as Opposing Viewpoints in Context or Credo Reference or read current periodicals, browse the Internet, and check out reference resources and encyclopedias such as Gale eBooks

Plan your research