Step 1: Select Your Topic

Your goal in this first step is to learn enough about your topic to identify a specific question to answer or a hypothesis to test.

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“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
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~ Zora Neale Hurston
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What do you know about your assignment?

Before beginning, you must be able to answer the following:

  • What are you supposed to be doing and why?
    • What is the due date?
    • What is the length of the assignment?
    • What kind and how many sources are required?
    • What citation style will be used?
  • Who will your audience be?

What do you want to know?

List what you already know about the topic. Discuss your topic with family, friends, and teachers. The Internet can be another good place to get started, where you can find current information and get an overview of the topic. In Step 2 you'll learn how to evaluate Internet sites for use as a source.

Additionally, you can read general encyclopedia or reference articles to learn more about the topic. Look for an aspect of your topic that interests you personally and fits the assignment. An element of controversy will allow you to take a stand and will make your research and the final product more interesting.

You will need to:

  • Read, view, and/or listen until you have a general understanding of your topic.
  • Use more than one source.
  • Ask yourself if your topic is too broad or too narrow, and refine it as needed.
  • Keep in mind the time and resources that you have and the length of your assignment.

What's the question or problem you will focus on?

Identify a specific research question or a hypothesis (tentative answer to your question). This question will give you focus for the rest of your research process. You will look for information that answers the question or supports the hypothesis.

Remember that research is searching again and again. (re search) You will often be looking at information that others have looked at before, trying to see something that they have not seen.

Research is not:

  • Combining a paragraph from an encyclopedia with a couple of paragraphs from web sites. That's plagiarism.
  • Rewording each phrase and citing each source. That's just a summary of facts with someone else's name on them.

Research is:

  • Going beyond facts and old ideas.
  • Taking a new look at the information and taking a stand.

Now, with your focused question or hypothesis ready, you can start searching for the answer to your question.

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The Oviatt Library Research Project Calculator was adapted from a product developed jointly by MINITEX and Minnesota Library Information Network (MnLINK). It is based on the original Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota Libraries.

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