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 something that affects your daily life. For example, if you want to write about Instagram, you might start with the name of the app or a broader term like social media.
Refine your focus. Now go small; narrow the scope of your project. This might mean combining your topic with a group you are part of or interested in studying, such as college students.
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. Here are some resources that provide topic overviews that you might find helpful.
But then sometimes there are just too many possibilities. Choose keywords that draw on the terminology from your focused topic and research question. Explore what the experts have to say in order to choose those keywords that will be most helpful to you.
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Use the library's Discover! service
What is Discover!?
Discover! is a simple, fast, Google-like way to search library resources. Through this one search, you can find books, magazine, journal and newspaper articles, DVDs, puppets...the list goes on and one. You can find Discover! on the library's home page. Start your search with the keywords you chose.
Search tip: Use limiters
Once you have your results, you may need to limit them to get what you want. Limiters help you get fewer results and help narrow your search in a database. Check or uncheck these options to see only those sources you want or need.
Some of the most common ways to limit or refine your results are described here, and the image on the right shows how you might choose these after you get your search results.
Scan through the titles and summaries (abstracts) on your results list. You can find out more about a result by putting your mouse over the magnifying glass pic after the title in your results, like in the image below.
To find the entire article, click on or
Send your best choices directly to your email so you don't have to go looking for them again. Click on the title of the article you like, and then use the tools on the right side of the screen to email the article directly to you. You can even include a computer-generated MLA citation in your message by selecting that choice from the Citation Format dropdown box.
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:
Develop Your Thesis. Now you have enough information to answer your research question. Your answer is your thesis.
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 is due by leaving breadcrumbs for other researchers to follow in your footsteps. Your professors expect it, and it is the right thing to do when you borrow something (in this case, words and ideas) from someone else.
You need to use in-text citations and a Works Cited page. 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!), use the MLA Handbook. It covers everything you will need to become an MLA style expert.