Starting your Research
You must first define your research topic before being able to truly know
what information is needed, why you need it, and then where the best sources
to find the information are located.
Research Questions | Information
Sources | Search Strategies
| Helpful Hints
Step 1: Forming Good Research Questions
- Characteristics of good research topics and questions:
- Appropriately narrow.
- Topic allows for depth and exploration, not a shallow glossing over
- Your primary research question defines the topic; your sub-questions
further define what information you need to find.
- Primary Research Question: In what ways can
virtual teams help global companies increase their communication
- #1: Define what it means to communicate (more) efficiently.
- #2: What are best practices and benefits identified by other
multi-national companies working in virtual teams?
- #3: What are drawbacks to working in virtual teams?
- #4: Are there qualifications that make one type of virtual
team work better than another (size, language barriers, technology
- #5: What are advantages and disadvantages of traditional
communication (define that) in regards to communication efficiency?
- Primary Research Question: How are institutes
of higher education (IHE) striving to ensure they successfully
graduate their overburdened adult learners?
- #1: Define and determine how to measure "successfully
graduate"? How do other IHEs measure this?
- #2: What is an "overburdened adult learner"? Qualifications?
How can I ensure this is a measureable and stable population
- #3: What university-offered programs are in place to assist
adult learners? How is the effectiveness of them measured?
- #4: What other student service options to help adult learners
- #5: What public/private programs are offered for adult
- Avoid characteristics of bad research topics:
- Open-ended questions
- Multi-part questions
- Fuzzy questions
- Bad examples + fixes: Badke, W. (2008). Research strategies: Finding
your way through the information fog. New York: iUniverse. (See
pages 25-27, 177-187 for more examples.)
- Is No Child Left Behind a good thing?
- Quick fix: What aspect of NCLB? Define "good
thing." Good for whom?, i.e. "How do interventions required
of schools that miss meeting annual yearly progress (AYP) benefit
- If we were to legalize all currently illegal drugs, what would that
mean for our country?
- Quick fix: Define "mean"; reword and focus question,
i.e. "How valid is the argument that legalizing all currently
illegal drugs would cut crime and stabilize or diminish drug use?"
For more ideas, see Prentice,
C. (2010). Research questions for literature reviews.
Step 2: Information Sources
- Books (found via the library catalog)
- Books are wonderful for finding comprehensive and broad information
about a topic.
- Books offer more background information than journal articles.
- Search terms for locating books can be more general than those used
for locating articles.
- Journal articles (found via library databases)
- Articles tend to be more current—journals are published weekly
or monthly and thus contain more up-to-date information than books.
- Whereas books contain broad information about a large topic, articles
focus in detail on specific aspects of narrowed subjects.
- Visit our Finding
Articles page to find out how and where to locate articles.
- Reference books (found via the library catalog)
- Reference books, such as subject-specific encyclopedias, are great
sources to help you develop a general understanding of your topic.
- Because reference books offer high level but often incomplete information
about a topic, they are not suitable to be used as cited references
in your academic research papers.
- Web sites (found using Internet search engines)
- Useful sources for both primary and in-depth research, but advanced
online searching techniques are needed to ensure finding the best
- Government websites offer hard-to-find statistical information for
- Websites can offer valuable information but it is extremely important
to properly evaluate information found on the Internet for authority
and accuracy. Visit our Evaluating
Websites & Information on the Internet page to find out how
- Dissertations, theses (found in both library catalogs and databases)
- Scholarly works published by Master or Doctoral degree students.
- Dissertations and theses always include works cited lists—a
bounty of information resources for you to explore.
Step 3: Search Strategies
- Visit our Searching
Databases Effectively page to discover how to make databases and Internet
search engines work to your advantage. Learn how to use keywords, phrases,
subject headings, Boolean operators, and truncation to your searching
- Find out from your professor what types of resources he or she expects
you to use in your research—peer-reviewed,
professional, or popular and primary
- Create a timeframe for your research and writing process. If you need
to borrow materials through Interlibrary Loan you will need to allow at
least five days for the materials to arrive.
- Your research topic will evolve. Depending upon the information you
discover, you may decide to revise your research focus.
- Narrow vs. broad topics:
- If you are not finding enough information, your topic may be too
narrow or too new.
- If your preliminary research returns an overwhelming amount of information,
your topic is probably too broad.
- Health and human services students can use TC Library's PICO & Search
Strategy Worksheet to help translate a health scenario into a research
question and search-friendly process.