Getting Started with Research

Toggle each box below to learn more about how to start your research.

Research is messy! Once you accept that fact, you will be able to relax and follow the basic research process, knowing that you may hit roadblocks and need to refine search terms or keywords. Or you may ask yourself completely new questions that you will want to answer!

Things you will do as part of the research process:

  • Select a topic
  • Analyze that topic
  • Perform background or reference research
  • Create a search strategy
  • Perform more research
  • Evaluate sources found

Gather, rinse, repeat!

Remember that research is messy. You have the power to help control the mess by employing some kind of research management techniques. By managing your research, you will save time during the research process by not repeating your searches. If you keep good enough notes, adding quotes and citations will be a snap!

Some options to consider:

  • [mostly] free third party software such as Mendeley or Zotero
  • Office365 OneDrive
  • A research log that tracks pertinent details such as: databases searched, keywords used, results received, date accessed, notes

Choosing and developing a research question is often the hardest part of getting started with research. You have to juggle so many things:

  • Choosing something that you’re interested in
  • Choosing something that fits the parameters of your assignment
  • Choosing something that is neither too narrow or too vague

Usually, you’re heading toward the development of a thesis — a statement or claim that you will prove or disprove based on evidence and argument.

1. Start with a broad topic or general question

By moving from general to specific concepts within your research plan, you gain a more thorough understanding of your topic.

2. Then gather background data

Conduct background research to obtain quick overviews, discover important issues and develop ideas for the focus of your research question. Use reference works and pay attention to current events.

3. Then refine your broad topic or general question

Considering the background data you collect, ask yourself some or all of the following questions:

  • Can you limit the topic or background information by geography, date, gender, age or environment?
  • What important people are discussed in this area of information?
  • What specific aspects of this topic interest you?
  • How much material appears to be available on the specific aspects of this topic? And in what formats?

Just like choosing (and using) a research management technique will save you time and energy during the research process, taking time to collect background information an develop a search strategy will set you up on the path for success. Some ideas for developing a list of search terms are:

  • Begin your list of keywords with the 5 W’s: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY
  • Perform background research in reference sources such as encyclopedias (Wikipedia and Everipedia are common crowd-sourced encyclopedias), handbooks, government documents and reference databases

Once you have some keywords to start with, check out these tips for searching any database, even search engines like Google.

  • Try Boolean Search Operators

When you use a search bar, you’re asking a computer a question. You can make the most out of a computer’s processing by using rules to better define your search. Boolean operators — AND, OR and NOT — are some rules you can use.

  • ANDreturns the overlapping results between two search terms to narrow search results. For example, searching chair AND leather will return only results that include both terms.
  • OR returns results that include one or more search terms to broaden search results. For example, searching chair OR leather will return more results having to do with chairs and leather.
  • NOT eliminates terms from search results. For example, searching chair NOT leather will return results about chairs, but none that include leather.
  • Try Phrase Searches

Perform a phrase search by enclosing a string of words in quotation marks. By doing this, you retrieve more specific results. To see how this works, try searching “fine press books” with and without the quotation marks.

  • Try Truncation

A truncation mark is a symbol used to search the many forms of a word. Different databases use different truncation marks, but the asterisk (*) is commonly used. In databases that use the asterisk for truncation, searching librar* will return results including librarylibraries and librarians.

With the countless number of sources — books, journal articles, reviews of those books and journal articles — that exist in the world today, there are also countless methods for accessing those sources. Even libraries offer options: subject-specific databases, general databases, and discovery systems like Sul Ross Library’s All Library Search. Within these databases there are strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to consider which tool is right for your specific information need.

All Library Search | the Sul Ross Library Discovery System

Thinking about the word “discovery” will help you understand All Library Search. This search box on the Library’s homepage searches books, multimedia, articles and tons of other types of sources in one fell swoop. All Library Search is a good place to start research, especially when you are comfortable using the database tools to refine your results based on your needs.