Depending on whom you consult, there can be as few as seven steps (Engle, 2001) or as many as fourteen steps (Fang et al., 2008) in the research process. It all depends on how specific a researcher wants to get in describing what takes place before a research proposal and research paper are written (Berger, 1998). Because of the space limitations, this discussion will revolve around the seven-step process.
Identify and Develop Your Topic
The first step is to identify and develop the topic you wish to research (Engle, 2011). Research cannot be done without a topic. Sometimes the topic may be given to you and sometimes you may be asked to pick a topic of your own choosing. Often in academic research, teams of experts in the same field will explore a topic in that field in order to build on the information that is already known. Be sure the topic is of interest to you; the research will ever so boring and tedious if you are not interested to begin with or if you lose interest in the topic before the research is done.
The next step is to gather as much background information about the topic as possible (Helregel, 2015). Sort through encyclopedias, news articles and sources, and bibliographies to find out what is known about the topic and how much information there may be about it out there to find. At this point, nothing about the topic should be ignored since you do not know how it will bear on your research later. This is a general step of gathering background information on the topic that can later be sorted through for relevancy.
Use Catalogs to Find Books and Media
Every library has a card catalog, either physical or virtual, that contains the books and other media listings on your topic (Engle, 2011). You should review the catalog to see what holdings the library has on the topic of your research. Once you find a volume, check the bibliography in it to see what other books may be available. There are also general subject catalogs that might provide a broader listing of available materials beyond what your library carries.
Use Indexes to Find Periodical Articles
Almost every subject or topic has publications dedicated to expanding information about that topic. To find what is in a particular publication, use the periodical indexes and search for published articles on the topic of interest (Engle, 2011). Do not ignore any of the listed articles, unless you know they will not be relevant to your research. You never know what piece of information might just be the key to your research.
Find Internet Resources
Researchers today have the added advantage of having the Internet available to surf. It is incredible how much information on a specific topic is available on the Internet and its various websites. It is a wealth of information that should not be ignored, but sifted through carefully to avoid unreliable websites. There are various search engines that should be automatic sources to be checked (Engle, 2011).
Evaluate What You Find
Step six is to evaluate all of the information you have accumulated (Engle, 2011). Each successive step has narrowed the information search to specific types of sources. But, you still have tons of information, not all of which will be relevant to your topic of interest. This where to examine each piece of information to determine its potential value to your research, and you discard all of the sources that do not fit your topic and research proposal.
Cite What You Find Using a Standard Format
Once you have evaluated all of the information, it is time to write it up in a way that will be usable in your research proposal and written research paper. In fact, this write up could serve as the literature review in the larger research report. This is also where you, as the researcher, refine your research topic and develop your ideas about the research design, data collection methods and the data analysis.
- Berger, A. A. (1998). Media Research Techniques, 2nd edition. Palo Alto, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
- Engle, M. (2011). “The Seven Steps of the Research Process.” Cornell Library. Ithica, NY: Cornell University.
- Fang, L., Manuel, J. Bledsoe, S.E. & Bellamy, J. (2008). Finding existing knowledge.
- In Grinnell, R.M. & Unrau, Y.A. (Eds.), Social work research and evaluation: Foundations of evidence-based practice (p. 466). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Helregel, N. (2015). “The Research Process.” University Library. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.