Step 4: Conduct Initial Research
At this stage, it is your aim to establish the solid informational and contextual foundations from which you will conduct further research and develop the trajectories of your assignment in terms of its content, thesis, and supporting evidence.
In the process of conducting this initial research, you will accomplish three crucial tasks:
- Gather basic information on your topic that is essential to move forward in your research. For example, if the object of study is a novel, you will need to be sure about the author's name and its correct spelling, the date of publication, and the publication's country of origin
- Get a sense of how much information has been written on your topic to date (quantity)
- Note where this information appears and the form it takes (books, journals, websites, etc.).
Research Your Topic
The Laurier Library and the TriUniversity Group of Libraries (TUG) will serve you well as you conduct your research. Orient yourself generally to the breadth of resources offered by the Laurier Library system and browse resource tags to get started. Use the Primo Catalogue to locate resources from across the Laurier, Waterloo, and Guelph University library collections; learn about your topic in general terms and plan how you will proceed in your research. Quickly locate materials specific to your area(s) of study and research using the Subject Guides on the Laurier Library website.
Use Google or another general internet search engine to find supplementary information. For more tips about online library and web resources, visit Finding Materials on the Laurier Library website.
- Comparitech has compiled a list of databases and resources for advanced web searches. This list offers general resources as well as those that are specific to areas in medical health, law, and science.
- Ipl2 has remarkable online special collections, offering users access to a breadth of web publications, including newspapers and magazines from around the world.
Keep Research Notes
As you work, keep track of resources in the form of research notes, charting a bibliographic ‘trail’ of your research. Research note-taking is an invaluable skill to be honed with practice and provides the foundation of a solid research project.
A clear set of research notes:
- Summarizes the body of material examined.
- Guides what you will decide to return to in your research and include in subsequent drafts of your assignment.
- Accurately records bibliographic (title, author names, date of publication, etc.) and location (call number, URL) details of materials.
- Enables you to quickly relocate items in the library and online.
- Simplifies the citation process and the compilation of the Works Cited list.
- Helps you avoid an act of plagiarism: by properly recording the origin of material and authors' names avoids unintentionally passing off secondary scholarship as your own original work.
For more tips about research note-taking practices, refer to Princeton University’s online publication, “Working Habits that Work.”
Evaluating Source Material
The research process requires that the researcher continuously evaluates and notes the relevance and the quality of all source material.
The thoughtful and continuous evaluation of source material:
- Enriches your assignment with a diverse, solid selection of secondary source material.
- Leads you to further sources of information which you may not have otherwise located.
- Develops your critical reading and thinking skills.
- Saves you time by eliminating irrelevant material.
Refer to the following checklists for more information about evaluating resources:
- Laurier Library Evaluating Resources Checklist
- University of California at Berkeley’s Evaluating Resources Checklist
Research: Beyond the Basics
Locate Resources and Libraries Worldwide
For advanced search, use WorldCat to enter your key research terms into the world's most comprehensive bibliographic database. This database displays thousands of bibliographic entries from libraries worldwide and you can identify useful resources to determine the scope of material published on your topic over an extended period of time.
Evaluate Sources: Advanced Considerations
In addition to evaluating your sources on the criteria of currency (timeliness), quality (peer review), and relevance, there are other ways to judge your sources:
- In what form did the material originally appear (e.g. blog, journal article, newspaper editorial, etc.)?
- Where was it published?
- In what country and by what institution, organization, or publisher? Such information will alert you to potential biases, as well as unique insights that the material may bear.
- Is the source a seminal article in the field (perhaps despite its age)?
- Is it integral to your topic?
Seminal scholarship is a scholarly or critical contribution regarded as groundbreaking in its methodology and/or findings. Seminal scholarship reveals itself most markedly through citation practices within ensuing scholarship: examine references, footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies for those scholars and works consistently cited over a significant period of time. Your instructor can help you identify whether or not a source you choose is seminal.
Many journal articles are now tracked for how often they are cited by other researchers. If it is important for your sources to be prominent in your field of study and to find the status of a journal based on the citation record, check Web of Science. If you are unfamiliar with the journal, find it online and check out the homepage or library catalogue entry: reputable publishers and journals tend to have a clear online presence and explain something of their respective peer-review processes. Library catalogue entries can provide supplementary information, such as how many years a journal has been in publication and the publishing house or organization responsible for its printing.
- Can you understand the material, or is it so dense as to be incomprehensible and impractical to your research?
- Can you read and digest the material in the time you have?
Use Computer Software to Streamline the Citation Process
Use Zotero and Mendeley (available on the Laurier library system) or another bibliographic software package to keep track of your sources and compile your reference list. Learning how to use this time-saving tool helps you organize your sources in a way that makes sense to you, ensuring you don't lose or omit necessary citations, and allowing you to build your own personal library of sources that you may draw upon as you progess through your program.