The Research Process:
The Research Mindset

Understanding Academic Research

Go into your research thinking critically about your topic, and about the sources of information you encounter while researching your topic. The following concepts and questions should help you get started on the path toward critically approaching your research! 

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Framework

For more detail, visit the ACRL Framework page.

As we already mentioned, research is a process through which we investigate various areas of a topic through an evolving series of questions. This process should be a strategic exploration of your topic. It often will involve a range of different types of sources and may take you in unexpected directions as you research and your understanding of the topic changes.

Different types of research and different topics will require different sources. Think about your particular topic or hypothesis and where you are most likely to find the information. Make sure you are using appropriate types of sources and a variety of sources, but also that you are looking for those sources in the right place. You may need to use different databases for different topics. Some topics might require you to use newspapers to reference current events. Others might require you to use government databases.

Your librarian can help you determine the best databases and websites to search for your topic. 

Ask Yourself:
  1. What types of sources are most likely to have the information that I need? 
  2. What types of sources am I required to use by my professor? 
  3. After your first search, was the information you found helpful? How might you change how and where you are searching to get better results? 

Good research is a process of inquiry. It starts with a simple question and leads to more complex questions as you dig into the information you find on your topic. As you find information to answer one question on your topic, it may create follow up questions requiring more research. 

In order to learn the most from your research – and produce the best paper or project from that research – you need to be prepared to follow the research where it takes you. You’ll need to allow your original – probably broad – question to evolve and change as you work. You may need to answer additional questions to create a complete answer to your original question. Or you may change your original question or hypothesis completely based on what you discover. 

Ask Yourself: 
  1. What is my thesis? 
  2. What will I need to find out to prove my thesis? 
  3. Where can I find that information? 
  4. Have I answered all the sub-questions I need to answer in order to address my overall thesis? 

Research is designed to convey a message. Your professor will likely want you to have a thesis – an argument – fo your project. The particular thesis you are using will determine the process you use for your research and the creation of your project. 

Consider what you want to prove, and why you want to prove it. Is there a gap in the research? Is there a “hot topic” in your field you want to address? Is it related to current events? This will help you know where to start your background research and the outline you want to follow for your research and your paper. 

Ask Yourself:
  1. How was the information source you are looking at created? What does this tell you about its authority?
  2. Why was the information source created? What does this tell you about its authority?

All information has value, although that value may vary from context to context. Information may have value as a commodity, as education, as influence, and as a way to understand the world. This value may impact how information is packaged and shared. 

This part of research goes hand-in-hand with the ability to evaluate sources and challenge authority. By understanding the value of the information in your source, you can better understand the quality of that source (both to you and to the creator of the source), why it was created, and how it informs your understanding of your topic. 

Ask Yourself:
  1. Why was this source created? 
  2. Who created it? Did they have an agenda?
  3. What is the intended audience of this information?
  4. Whose “voices” are represented here? Whose voices/perspectives are not represented? 

Research is part of the conversation of scholarship? What does this mean? Even the foremost expert on a topic cannot know and research every angle of a particular topic. This is why we have multiple experts in every field, and each department has multiple professors. In order to get a complete picture of a topic, you need to consult multiple experts and multiple sources. Your research and your project is your chance to contribute in this conversation by offering your own perspective to this ongoing conversation. Your thesis will add to the pre-existing parts of this conversation which you found through your research. 

Researchers, even experts, are always building on the work of those who come before them. This is why citation is so important – it gives credit to all the researchers who came before you and who helped inform your work. 

Ask Yourself:
  1. What do we already know about my topic?
  2. What would I like to know? 
  3. What are the current debates in the literature on my topic? 
  4. What can I add to the debate? 
  5. Why do I have to cite my sources? What is the purpose of a citaiton? 

As researchers, we have to learn to evaluate the author’s expertise and credibility. We also need to learn how to find the right source for the particular project we are working on. 

When considering a source we must ask ourselves about the author, about the methodology of the author’s work, about where the author got their information, and about whether or not the particular source is appropriate for the particular project we are working on. This involves thinking critically about the source and the creator of that source.

Ask Yourself: 
  1. Who created this source? What are their qualifications? 
  2. What is the intended audience of this information?
  3. Can you tell how the resource was created? If it was based on a study, were the methods of that study sound? 
  4. Whose “voices” are represented here? Whose voices/perspectives are not represented? 

It's All Connected!

As you may have noticed, the questions you suggested in each of these boxes are often related to one another and even overlap in some cases. This reminds us that research is a process, not a straight line. As we consider things like authority of a source or value of the information in the source, we may want to revisit what sources we are using and where we found them. As we engage in the process of inquiry that leads from larger questions to more specific questions, we may change how our topic fits within the overall conversation of scholarship. 

The rest of this guide will help walk you through the various concrete steps you will need to follow to complete your research and your final project.