How do I start my research project?

1. Topic

First you need to pick a topic. For this class, you’re given suggested topics as part of the assignment. Think about which of these topics interests you. The more interested you are in the topic, the easier it will be to research and write about it!

At this stage, your topic can be pretty broad, like Hurricanes. 

2. Find background information

What do you know about your topic already? It’s possible you already know enough to move on to step three, but if not, you may want to do some preliminary investigations to help you figure out what aspect of the topic you are interested in. You may want to browse the Library’s reference collection, such as encyclopedia’s, for general background knowledge. You may also want to do some general Google searching to just get an idea of what your topic is about and what the issue surrounding your topic are.

For example, when I Googled Hurricanes I discovered a Weather Channel article about a concept I wasn’t familiar with – “flooding rainfall.” The article tells me that since 2015 rain has been a bigger factor in Hurricane damage via flooding. This might help me narrow my focus to something more specific than Hurricanes, which is too broad to really research. 

3. Create a research question

What is the question you want to answer with your research? Figuring this out will help you narrow down (or expand) your topic until you have a good, workable question to address. This in turn will help you figure out keywords for searching for information. 

After reading the Weather Channel article, I am curious about rain falls and Hurricanes. Specifically, I want to know why rain from hurricanes is causing more damage since 2015. 

Keep in mind that sometimes your questions might have sub-questions “hidden” in them. 

To address my question about rain and Hurricanes, I might want to ask a few subquestions:

1. Has there been more rain, on average, from Hurricanes since 2015? 

2. Has that rain led to more flooding damage?

3. Why has there been more rain (and therefore more damage)? 

4. Depending on the sophistication of my paper, I might also ask: What can we do about it? 

4. Searching the Library for books and articles 

Now you need to think about what search terms you want to use in your searching. What are your main concepts? 

Here, our main concepts are hurricanes, increased rain, flooding, and damage.

What synonyms might you want to search? Try brainstorming before you search. (Hint, if you aren’t sure what synonyms for these concepts might be, try a thesaurus

Hurricane, cyclone, tropical storm; increased rain, wetter, increased precipitation; flooding, storm surge; damage, destruction. 

Some quick search tips: put quotation marks around phrases – this searches the concept as a phrase, rather than individual words. 

 “Tropical storm”; “increased rain”

We suggest starting with an advanced search, rather than searching from the homepage.

Using keyword searches, plug in your search terms, using OR between synonyms and AND between the different concepts. This allows you to search multiple concepts, with synonyms, at the same time. 

If necessary, use the filters on the left hand side of your results list to narrow down your results. If your results are too narrow (you don’t get enough results), consider thinking about more synonyms or try removing one of your concepts to make your topic a little broader. 

You may need to try a few searches, with different keywords or terms, to get the best results. That’s totally normal! Most of us have to try a few searches to get the best results. 

6. Create your project! 

NOTE: There are other potential sources you may want to use for more advanced research projects; this is a simplified list of steps. For more advanced projects, don’t hesitate to reach out to a librarian for one-on-one research help.