The research process can be daunting. Where do you start? Everyone develops and refines their own strategies and processes based on what makes the most sense to them. Generally speaking, research is an iterative process - research questions may evolve as you dive into the scholarly literature or explore how your topic is currently framed in the news. Or if your project involves collecting data (in interviews or from questionnaires, for example), your literature review may take different shapes as you analyze the data for prominent themes.
Below are a few of my tips and strategies to get started and stay organized. UCI Libraries also has a few self-paced tutorials to stimulate your thinking and support you as you work through your research process.
- Brainstorm your topic: What sub-topics are you interested in? Are you looking at the topic through a specific framework or through a specific lens? Are you interested in the topic during a specific time frame? Are you exploring how a particular population of people connect to this topic? What are some keywords/phrases useful to search this topic? Check out this Concept Mapping tutorial as you brainstorm your topic.
- Types of information: Decide what kind of information you're looking for. Different types of sources will offer different perspectives, and you might need to search in different places to discover these different types sources.
- Books and Encyclopedias can offer broad overviews or historical context
- Scholarly journal articles can offer empirical evidence or more focus on a specific intervention or population
- Popular newspapers/media such as New York Times can offer societal context
- Consult the various menu tabs on this guide for suggested places to search for overviews, journal articles, statistics, and news.
- Outline your topic: You may need different types of sources for different parts of your project (e.g. an encyclopedia for your Introduction; scholarship for your Literature Review) and you might need to combine different search terms for different sections of your project. An outline helps you organize what sources and information you have to support each section of your paper or project.
- Search numerous places: You can play around with different keyword combinations in Google Scholar and try searches in UC Library Search. A regular web search can lead you to recent news or advocacy organization reports on the topic. Check out these tutorials on Choosing Keywords and creating Boolean searches, which can help you string similar or different concepts together.
- Use bibliographies to your advantage: Oftentimes if you find a few good sources, their bibliographies can lead you to more material on your topic. See the Efficiency Tips box below for additional strategies.
- Start a Bibliography page right away: By creating a Works Cited or References document right away, you can keep a list of all the sources you intend to use, and also be ready to include in-text citations as you start synthesizing your sources in your paper. Check out the Citation Management tab on the menu above for more information about citations.