This is the "Research Process" page of the "ENGL 101: Composition" guide.
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ENGL 101: Composition  

This guide will help you with the research process for English 101.
Last Updated: Jul 21, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Research Process Print Page

What this guide is for:

  • This guide supports the research you will do in English 101.
  • You can use this as a guide as you work through the process of collecting, evaluating, and citing sources.
  • To begin, start by choosing which step of the research process you are at by using the quick links on the left side of the screen.

Before you start looking:

Stop. Breathe. Read your assignment. If you don't know what to research, then the first step is to look over the assignment for clues as to what your instructor wants you to write about. Try underlining or highlighting the specific requirements of the assignment to help you stay on track.


Ask questions. If anything is unclear, or if you are uncertain about anything, be sure to ask!  As you work through this process, draw on the many resources available to you. You can attend your professor’s office hours, schedule an appointment with a librarian, and visit the campus Writing Center.

Choose a topic. Start big. If your topic hasn’t been assigned, choose something you’re interested in like a particular text, an author, or a larger theoretical concern. For example, if you want to write about the short story  “Everyday Use,” you might start with that text, Alice Walker, or questions of identity.

Refine your focus. Now go small; narrow the scope of your project. This might mean combining topics, such  as focusing on a text and a thematic concern.





Ask a research question. This is different from a    thesis statement (which you'll develop toward the end    of this process). Ask a question about your focused    topic.

Generate keywords: Unless you’re a walking thesaurus, you need something to draw ideas and words from. Use a topic overview to find an entry about your topic and pull words from it.


CQ Researcher

  • Gives unbiased overview information on controversial topics
  • Written by experts
  • Includes pro/con argument section, news coverage, and a bibliography

Opposing Viewpoints in Context

  • Provides background information and arguments for/against controversial issues
  • Browse the different topics to find viewpoints, statistics, and websites on your topic


  • The free encyclopedia that everyone knows and loves




But then sometimes there are just too many possibilities. Choose keywords that draw on the terminology from studies on literary texts and on your topic. Explore what the experts have to say in order to choose those keywords that will be most helpful to you.


Too many:

Just right:


Everyday Use







Scholarly Vs. Popular

                Scholarly VS.                 Popular
  • Written by experts
  • The "peer" review process means that articles are reviewed by other experts before publication
  • Limit by using the "Scholarly" or "Peer Reviewed" options in most databases, or limit to "Academic Journals.                     

  • Written for a general audience
  • May not be written by experts
  • Often only cover one side of a story                                                                                                                                                           


Where to find things:

What is a database?

A database works like iTunes, except databases organize many types of information, not just music. A database is information that has been collected and organized to be easier to find.

Search Hint: Use Limiters

Limiters help you narrow your search in a database. Check or uncheck these options to see only those sources you want or need!

  • peer reviewed: This will give you only scholarly articles
  • date range: See articles from before, after, or during certain years
  • full-text: A favorite! This makes sure that gives you the whole article
  • related terms (add terms to focus your search)

Find Articles

Academic Search Complete is the world's largest academic database that searches across thousands of journals, across all majors, to give you full-text results.



    What to do with your research:


    Evaluate your sources (books, articles, websites, etc.) as you find them. You only want to keep and use sources that suit your topic. Here’s how you know:

    • Look at the title. Does it look like it’s related to your topic?

    • What can you tell about the authors?  Do they look credible?

    • Look alright so far? Read the abstract to be sure. If you can’t read the abstract because it uses weird words or complicated sentences, throw it away. It’s only useful if you can read it. If everything checks out, the source is probably good.

    • Does it contain useful information that you can use? Can this source add to, challenge, or expand your thinking about this topic?

    Develop Your Thesis. Now you have enough information to answer your research question. Your answer is your thesis.

    © xkcd

           Creative Commons License

    Mine your sources. for useful information.  Now that you have your thesis, you want to gather evidence to support it.  Read through each source and pick out the ideas and phrases that best support your thesis. Compile a list of points/quotes made that speak to your research interest or question. A twenty page article, for example, might give you four or five really good ideas.

    Attend to the values of citation (or why you cite). Give credit where credit’s due by leaving breadcrumbs for other researchers to follow in your footsteps.

    You need to produce in-text citations; a works cited (that matches your in-text citations). To get a better sense of the nuts and bolts of citation, turn to The First-Year Composition Guide or look at the How to Cite Resources Research Guide.  To master the citation process (or begin to master it, as it is quite complicated!), turn to the MLA style guide.  It will tell you everything you need to know about citing in MLA style!





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