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How to do Research

Research is a process of inquiry: Asking questions, following the answers

Understand the assignment

Understand the assignment, and follow the directions provided by your instructor. If you have been given a document explaining and describing the assignment, keep that document with you while you are doing your research, and while you are reading and organizing your research material, and while you are writing and proofreading your final project.

You could do the most comprehensive and diligent research, and produce a wonderful project, but if it does not match what the instructor wants you to produce, you will not get the best grade. 

Ask questions of your instructor, or of the librarians, if you do not clearly understand what you have been asked to do. Ask your questions before you have invested a lot of time and work!

Pace yourself and plan ahead


  • Start simple, and follow your instinct and interest. If something looks good, save it. You can always choose later whether or not to use it.
  • Expect to spend several one hour sessions and reserve time in your calendar for at least three sessions.
  • Use tabbed browsing to save time, and to compare search results across various different databases or web search engines.
  • Expect to collect at least 30% more sources than are actually required, or that you think you will need. That gives you some flexibility as you start organizing, outlining, and writing. You will very likely find that some of your sources will not be as useful as expected. You may find that, as you ask questions and start getting answers, that the answers are not what you expected or assumed.
  • Many students find it helpful to keep a research log or diary, noting down search words used in which databases and what kind of results were found. You can also record thoughts, feelings, ideas, questions, issues, concepts, brainstorms, that might end up being very useful in writing your paper or preparing your presentation.


  • Mark out the due dates in your calendar. Set alerts if your calendar has that option. Mark a final due date that is several days before the actual due date, so you will finish early and have time to review and reflect and polish up your writing or practice your speech.
  • Consider adding some time in your schedule to consult with tutors and/or librarians. A good time to do this is when you are about half way through.
  • As your due date approaches, re-visit or review previous sources. Try some new searches. Check for updated information. Check your citations, and make sure that they match with the concepts, ideas, or arguments that you are referencing. 

Use consistent collection methods


  • When using print sources, take detailed notes and / or photocopy pages with the information you plan to use. Remember to collect and write down the citation information along with your notes or copied pages.  
  • For most citation styles, you will need: author, title, publisher, place of publication, date of publication, and page numbers. If chapters have different authors you will need the chapter author and chapter title. You will need the page number that has the information that you plan to use and cite.
  • You can photocopy the title page and staple that together with your information pages. Or, write the citation information on the photocopies. If using note cards, write the citation on the back of the cards. You can also take a picture of the page(s) with your phone, and then email the images to yourself.


  • Library online databases will offer ways to generate a citation in the program, so look for that command or option, and choose the format required for the class.
  • Emailing results to yourself is usually the most reliable option. Look for the “permalink” or “share” option or command in the database. Do not copy and paste the URL from the location bar in the browser as you normally do with websites. That link will not work!
  • Keep your email open in another tab of the browser while searching, finding, and emailing results to yourself. After sending, check your email to make sure you received it in a format that you can open or access. If not, you can easily go back to the search tab and check the other options.
  • Consider a backup option. If you use email to collect and store your sources, what happens if the internet is down, or you are unable to access your email when you need it? Get a USB drive and save everything, or consider simply printing out the pages for smaller research projects.