Research Process

1. Develop a Topic

  • Develop research questions
  • Identify keywords
  • Read background information
  • Refine the topic

2. Research questions

Once you have selected a topic, the next step is to develop research questions.

  • Write down what you already know or don’t know about the topic.
  • Use that information to develop questions.
    • Use probing questions. (why? what if? how?when?)
    • Avoid “yes” and “no” questions.

From “Developing Research Questions.” Research Process: A Step-by-Step Guide. Johnson & Wales University Library, 2013.

3. Keywords

The keywords you use can have a profound impact on the results of your research. Using the “right” words will speed up the research process, while the “wrong” words can bring to it to a halt.
Before you can begin searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Key terminology can be easily be found by scanning:

  • Your research questions
  • Articles found from background research
  • Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles

From “Identify Keywords.” Research Process: A Step-by-Step Guide. Johnson & Wales University Library, 2013.

Keyword Chart

Keyword Tutorial (From Johnson & Wales University Library.)


4. Background Information

Once you have identified some keywords, the next step is to find background information on your topic. Background research:

  • Provides a good overview of the topic if you are unfamiliar with it
  • Helps identify important facts — terminology, dates, events, history, organizations, etc.
  • Can help refine your topic
  • Leads to bibliographies which provide additional sources of information

From “Finding Background Information.” Research Process: A Step-by-Step Guide. Johnson & Wales University Library, 2013.

Resources for Background Research

Where can I find background information?
Databases often include reference articles, news stories and academic resources
eBooks and books have chapters that provide general overviews
Wikipedia – Yes! It’s a good place to start to read about a topic
Tip: While reading for background information keep an eye out for additional resources or scholarly works that you may need later.

5. Refining a topic -Pitfalls by W. Badke & R. Baer

From LION: Library Information Literacy Online Network.