The Research Process

The Research Process

Research Process (aec)

Research Process

Research is a process that cannot (should not) be completed in one sitting. If you follow the steps outlined below, you should experience less frustration, anxiety and general dread, and be much happier with the end product. Librarians can help you at any step in the process, but specifically in topic development, background research, and the collection of evidence.

Once you get the assignment, you will choose your topic, and start brainstorming. Next, you will conduct some exploration or background research and take detailed notes about what you find. Using these notes, you will then focus your topic, and your brainstorming will then be about how you will start searching for your topic. Then, you will collect the information you need to support your topic. This is where you may go back to further refining your topic and collecting more background information.  Once you feel that you have enough information to start writing, then you will work on drafting your assignment. Again, you may need to collect more information if you feel that there are gaps in your paper. Once you have completed your writing, you will write your citations and bibliography. Then you will finish by evaluating the process.

One thing that I can’t stress enough, is that this process is cyclical. If you follow this process, then you may have to revise your topic, and search for new sources a few times. Don’t be discouraged if it feels like you are going in circles with your research. You can always come meet with a librarian for help with your research.


Background Research

Background Research

Background Research (General)

The first step in effective research is to gain a working understanding of your topic by doing background research. There are many ways to get background on your topic.

Searching the Web

Good research can be done by searching the internet for good sources using your favorite search engine. 

Popular search engines:




About URL Extensions

All web addresses (URLs) have an extension such as .com, .gov, .org, etc.  Some of these extensions can be helpful in identifying a source but many are not helpful.  Extensions such as .com, .net, .info, and even .org can be almost any type of website including commmercial, personal, etc. 

Helpful extensions:

.gov means you are looking at a site provided by a department or agency of the United States government.

.mil means you are looking at a site created by a branch of the United States military.

.edu means you are looking at a site hosted by a college or university but be sure you are not looking at a student page, a personal blog, or similar item hosted on the college's site.

Country extensions- a country domain extension is an indicator that the page you are looking at was creating and maintained in a foreign country.  Examples- Canada = .ca,  Mexico = .mx, China = .cn, etc.

ImportantA domain extension is no guarantee of quality.  Regardless of the extension you must review the information found on a website and check it for accuracy.  


Using Reference Works

A Reference Work is a resource that provides factual information and are usually organized in a way to allow the user to find information quickly.  Examples of reference works include encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, indexes, almanacs, etc.  

Some reference sources at the library include:

The Print Reference Collection at Kellogg Library is on the 3rd floor just outside of the librarian offices.  

CQ Researcher

Gale Virtual Reference Library





Scholarly Articles

Scholarly Articles

Most Useful

Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly
Academic Search Premier

This scholarly collection offers information in nearly every area of academic study including: computer sciences, engineering, physics, chemistry, language and linguistics, arts & literature, medical sciences, ethnic studies, and many more.

Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It 1975 to current Most
Google Scholar CSUSM

Link to citations and full-text from your CSUSM Library databases and beyond!

Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It current to current All

Search all of ProQuest's databases.

Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It 1971 to current Most

Contains (EXCEPT for the latest five years) core scholarly journals in sociology, history, economics, political science, mathematics, African-American & Asian studies, literature, humanities, music, and biological, health & general sciences.

Full-text 1838 to most recent five years Most

Also Useful

Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly
CINAHL Complete

CINAHL, the Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature, provides indexing for articles from 5,400 journals in the fields of nursing and allied health. This database provides full text access to more than 1,300 journals dating back to 1937.

Links to full-text via Get-It 1937 to current Most
Communication & Mass Media Complete

Provides abstracts and full text for more than 200 communication journals.

Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It 1950 to current Some

An important index to political, economic, and social issues in current debate.

Links to full-text via Get-It 1972 to current All

Available via EbscoHost: A comprehensive international database of psychology, covering the academic, research, and practice literature in psychology from over 45 countries in more than 30 languages.

Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It 1887 to current All
Web of Science

Contains citation Idexes for Science, Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities, and Book Citations from 2004 to present. Select "Web of Science Core Collection" to conduct cited reference search.

Links to full-text via Get-It 1975 to current All

Finding Keywords

Finding Keywords

Keywords (General)

If you are using a computer to search for resources and information, you must be using Keywords.  

Keywords are words and phrases that tell a database or search engine what to look for.  Developing and using good keywords is an important research skill and will make all the difference in the type of information and research that you find.  Sometimes developing keywords will be really straightforward and easy but sometimes it can be a challenge to find the right keywords for your topic.

Reasons why keywords can be challenging:

  • Not everyone uses the same words to discuss the same topic.  
    • Example- general term is beekeeping but scientific term is apiculture.
  • Some words are used a lot and can have different meanings.  
    • Example- depression in Psychology refers to a mental disorder but depression in Economics refers to the health of the economy and depression in History usually refers to the Great Depression that happened in the 1930s.  
  • There are many online searching tools (ex. databases or search engines) and they don't all work the same.   
    • Example- one database may be programmed to look through a whole article for words and another may only look at the title of the article.  

So how do I know the right keywords to use?

First, realize there will be some trial and error and that's perfectly normal.  We recommend that you keep notes about the keywords you use.

Here are some suggestions for findng good keywords:

  • Brainstorm about your topic.  Write down any words you can think of having to do with your topic.
  • Think of synonyms for those keywords.  Write them down.
  • Think of topics related to yours and write down any keywords you think of.
  • Look in encyclopedias or on websites for other potential keywords.  Write them down.
  • Do a search with some keywords and scan the results for other keywords you might use.  Write them down.
  • Use a database thesaurus to find keywords.  Write those down too.

Best Practices

  • Start simply with a few keywords and then add keywords to refine your search.  It is easier to narrow a search down then it is to broaden it out.  
  • Try lots of different keywords and keyword combinations.  Even you get good results on your first attempt, using different combinations provides a more thorough search and you might find great results that you missed the first time.
  • Avoid full sentences or long phrases.  Break your topic into individual words and pair keywords together using 'and'.  
    • Example- Turn this thesis "Beekeepers livelihoods are threatened because bees are dying off" into 'beekeeping and disease' or 'apiculture and colony collapse' or 'beekeeping and economics'.  
  • Pair keywords together to get accurate results.  
    • Example- 'depression' has a lot of meanings and 'mental health' is a big topic with a lot of subcategories but 'depression and mental health' will help you find information about depression, the mental disorder.  


Workshop review

Workshop review