Step 1: Question

Your goal in this first step is to learn enough about your topic to identify a specific question to answer or a hypothesis to test.

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“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
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~ Zora Neale Hurston
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What do you know about the assignment?

Before you begin, you must be able to answer the following:

  • What are you supposed to be doing and why?
  • What will the completed project look like?
  • Who will your audience be?

You might be able to find some guidance in your course syllabus or a handout describing the assignment. If you are unsure about what you should be doing, meet with your professor to ask for clarification.

What do you want to know?

List facts you already know about the topic. Discuss your topic with peers, a librarian, and your professor.

Search smarter. The internet and the library's reference resources can provide the background information you need to improve your search. Instead of searching for Facebook and bullying, you may get better results searching for "online social networks" and bullying, or cyberbullying.
Books are a great place to start research. They often outline the topic for you in the table of contents and the index at the back of the book lets you search for key terms.

You will need to:

  • Look for better key terms to describe your topic - better key terms will even change your Google results!
  • Research (read, view, and/or listen) until you can identify an aspect of your topic to study closely
  • Consult a variety of sources (internet, books, articles, videos)
  • Manage your time wisely - OhioLINK books take 3 to 5 business days to arrive here and articles ordered through Interlibrary Loan can take up to 10 business days.

What's the question or problem you will focus on?

Identify a specific research question or a hypothesis. This question will give you focus for the rest of your research process. You will look for information that answers the question or supports the hypothesis.

Remember that research is searching again and again (re search). Every time you search, you should look for a way to improve your search.

Research is not:

  • Combining a paragraph from an encyclopedia with a couple of paragraphs from web sites. That's plagiarism.
  • Outlining prior research studies. That's just a summary of previous research.
  • Rewording each phrase and citing each source. That's just a summary of facts with someone else's name on them.

Research is:

  • Applying new information to old studies.
  • Taking a fresh look at existing research and forming a hypothesis or question to explore.
  • Going beyond facts and prior research.

After you develop a focused question or hypothesis, you can start searching for the answer to your question.

Schedule | Question | Gather | Conclude | Communicate: Essay - Electronic Slides - Video | Evaluate | Start Over | Printer iconPrinter-friendly view

The Research Project Calculator is a project funded jointly by MINITEX and MnLINK to develop Cool Tools for Minnesota secondary school students and their teachers. It is based on the original Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota Libraries.

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