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Research Starter Guide

Where do we start?

When choosing a topic keep a few things in mind:

  • Choose something you are interested in!
    • If you pick a topic you already have interest in or experience with then the task of research becomes more rewarding! You will also end up with a more unique research project!


  • Brainstorm Ideas!
    • Use an mind map
    • Write down different ideas when they come to you
    • Bounce ideas off a friend


  • Don't be too broad with your topic or too narrow!
    • Picking something that is too broad will be harder to centralize and ultimately answer!
    • On the other hand you want your topic to be SPECIFIC not NARROW You want your topic to be complex, you don't want it to be answered with a simple number or one word answer.


  • Keep your assignment requirements in mind!
    • You want to think about the scope of your project.
    • What are the source requirements for the assignment ?
    • What is the assignment asking you to focus on?

 If your assignment is asking you to focus on modern literature you don't want to write about the Ottoman Empire!

Doing background research is an important part of the research process. You want to know more generalized information about your topic to help you narrow it down. Background research is supposed to make the rest of your research process easier!

Some things to look for:

  • Who- Who are the important experts on your topic? Who developed your topic? Who should you be researching further?
  • What- What do you need to know about your topic? What seems to be the most important aspects of your topic?
  • When- When are some notable dates? When Was your topic establish or became popular? 
  • Where- Where are some notable places? Where did your topic originate?
  • Why- Why did your topic come to be? Why did it become an issue or solution?
  • How- How did your topic come to be? How was it originally studied or discussed?



Places to look for background research:


  • Great for generalized background research. Use this option if you are completely unsure where to start. 

Google Scholar

  • This is better for more credibly background research. It can lead you to most popular academic discussions on your topic. You can also discover more about experts on your topic.

Credo Reference

  • Used for very basic information about your topic, origin, history, and most known information.


  • Similar to Credo Reference, it will provide the most basic information

WIkipedia (not citable but good for basic info)

  • Similar to searching through google, will give you basic definitions, people of importance, and terminology. It is not a very credible source so this should ONLY be used for background research to help fuel your in-depth research or help create keywords.

Newspapers/popular sources

  • ​​​​​​​Looking through recent or old newspapers can help establish public opinion surrounding your topic (only if applicable to your topic)


Google Scholar versus Google. Pros of Google Scholar; contains a wide variety of scholarly literature, searching is free, easy to use if you've ever used google, sorts results by relevance. Cons of google scholar; can't search by subject or material type, full text limited to library & open access, very few limiters, difficult to determine peer reviewed articles. Pros of Google; searches the entire web, searching is free, sort results based on relevance, useful for finding government sources. Cons of google; hard to determine credibility, results contain ads, results are not organized by experts, it is harder to determine scholarly or peer reviewed sources.


Your research question should guide your research project and let the audience know what you are trying to find out. It should give your paper or project focus and direction.


How to write your research question:

  • Ask questions about your topic
    • Make a list of questions you want to know or that interest you
  • Make sure your question is specific enough to answer but not so narrow you can't develop it (much like your topic)!
  • Make sure your question is researchable within the timeframe you have been given
  • Evaluate your research question once you have a working draft

Some example questions:



What effect did TikToc have on social media platforms?

Too Broad. Which social media platforms, what aspects of TikToc,

What effect did TikTok's 3 minute limitation of content have on YouTube's content policy for established creators?

This is more specific. Focuses on one aspect of TikTok, focuses on one type of platform and one aspect of what could have been effected.



Why are gas prices so high?

Not focused. There are too many possible answers and no focal point to the question

How has the ban on importing oil from Russia due to the invasion of the Ukraine effected the inflation rates of gas for the consumers in the US?

This is more narrow. Gives a singular event to research and a singular reaction to that event. 


Does McDonalds or Burger King sell more burgers?

Too simple. It can be answered with a simple google search and one answer

How do the marketing strategies of McDonalds and Burger King in the South Eastern United States drive the number of consumers seen in a year over?

Much more complex. Requires primary and secondary sources.



Evaluate your research question using F.I.N.E.R

  • Feasible: The research question can be researched or evaluated. I.e. answered!


  • Interesting: The question should be interesting to you and to those in your scholarly community


  • Novel: Should be original; bring new ideas or perspectives to your field of study


  • Ethical: More relevant with scientific research but should be appropriate and follow safe protocols.


  • Relevant: Not only should it be interesting and original but should be relevant to research going on around you.