Doing Research Step by Step

Step 1: Clearly define your research need:

What is it that you need or want to know? How much information do you need or want? How long does your paper need to be, do you need a specific number of citations?

Begin researching with “broad” resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, text books to familiarize yourself with the subject more and better understand your topic.

Step 2: Begin your search:
Use the library website to locate books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and media available in your library and in other Michigan libraries.
Step 3: Carefully select your search terms
  • Keywords: Use the most specific words to describe your topic including synonyms and alternate terms, such as abbreviations and scientific terms.
  • Use controlled vocabulary: Database descriptors, the Library of Congress Subject Headings, or other thesauri gather information on the same topics together and may contain other useful words for your research.  Ask the library reference staff for help in finding thesauri.
  • Use advanced search techniques:
    • Truncation is used to expand results by instructing the computer to look for the root of the word and all alternate word endings. The ? (question mark) or * (asterisk) may substitute for any number of characters at the beginning, middle or end of a word.

      Examples: gun* Retrieves gun, guns, gunners, gunnery, gunning, etc.

    • Boolean Operators: AND, OR, and NOT may be used to combine key words in electronic database searching.  Using Boolean operators can make you search more focused and yield more precise results.

      • Use AND to retrieve records containing only all search terms.  AND will reduce and refine the results. 
      • Use OR to retrieve records containing one, both or all of the search terms.  OR will expand the search and retrieve more results.
      • Use NOT to exclude terms in a search.  Be cautious when using NOT, useful search results may be omitted.
  • Phrase Searching. Some databases and search engines will allow the use of quotations to search for an exact phrase or words together in a paragraph or sentence.  This also may be referred to as proximity searching.
  • Use the help function for each specific database or search engine for more information on proximity searching.
Step 4:  Carefully and accurately record your findings.
  • Take detailed notes or print out full references for bibliographies
  • Carefully organize your bookmarks within meaningful headings
  • Citing print and electronic sources
Step 5:  Critically evaluate the information that you find
  • Is the resource useful, well written, up to date and/or at an appropriate level for your need?
  • Don't waste time on less useful resources.  If you are not finding useful information try another resource
  • Remember the Internet is a self publishing medium and contains a huge range of data, including useless and offensive materials
Step 6:  Get help whenever you need it
  • Ask your instructor for help
  • Use “HELP” screens and online assistance when available
  • Ask a reference librarian for assistance
  • Don’t waste time if you are not finding any information at a particular resource.  Ask for help before getting too frustrated.