This is the "Research Process" page of the "ENGL 102: Composition and Critical Reading" guide.
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ENGL 102: Composition and Critical Reading   Tags: authors, biography, citation, criticism, decades, drama, dramatists, literature, mla, novels, plays, poetry, poets, project, short, stories, study, word, writers  

Last Updated: Jan 12, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Research Process Print Page

What this guide is for

      • This guide supports the research you will do in English 102.
      • 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

Recap from English 101

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. A reseach question is a question that you don't know the answer to when you begin your project. It should be a question that can, in theory, be answered as you conduct research. This is a precursor to your thesis statement. 

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. 


Scholarly Vs. Popular

                Scholarly VS.                 Popular
  • Written by experts
  • The peer review process means that articles are reviewed by other experts before publication
  • Often longer than 10 pages
  • List references at the end
  • Found by using the "Scholarly" or "Peer Reviewed" options in most databases, or limiting to "Academic Journals."              

  • Written for a general audience
  • May not be written by experts
  • May be reviewed by an editor before publication
  • Often only cover one side of a story                                                                                                                                                           



Where else to find things

Start with library databases.

What is a database?

It's like iTunes for research. A database is information that has been collected and organized to be easier to find.

Search Tips: 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: This makes sure that gives you the whole article
  • related terms: Add terms to focus your search

Find Articles

Databases, like professors, have specializations. Consider your topic and select a broad subject area from our Database Finder that is closely related. Click on that subject (below, I clicked on the subject English) and scan through the suggested list of databases (as seen in the picture below the subject list) to find one or two that seem most likely to have the topic you need, in the format you need it in. For example, a newspaper database is not a good place to find scholarly or peer-reviewed articles since it only contains, well, newspapers. 


Not sure what subject area fits? Try searching in the Academic Search Complete database, the world's largest academic database that searches thousands of journals and covers topics from most majors, to give you full-text results.



What to do with the stuff you found, Part 1

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 all right 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?

OR: Use this handy chart to evaluate pages you find on the web.



What to do with the stuff you found, Part 2

Engage critically with your sources

What does that mean? Research is a conversation. How does the source talk to you and other sources you've found? 

Ask questions of the source. You started this when you first evaluated each source. Now take another look at your source and go deeper. What is the author's position on the topic? Do they acknowledge alternate views of the topic? Did they miss anything? 

Don't just find thingsconsider what the source adds to your argument. Does it give a new way to solve a problem? Does it say something another source challenges?  

Contemplate how you can synthesize the source into what you want to say. How does it agree or disagree with other sources? Does it challenge your position? 

Consider how the strength of the source affects your argument. Feel free to agree or disagree with parts of the source. Sometimes a source you disagree with is a better source for you because you can address why your research shows it is questionable.  

Citing. As always, give a hat tip to to your sources by citing them within the body of your paper and in the Works Cited at the end. 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 Handbook. It covers everything you will need to become an MLA style expert.





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