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Get Started With Research

Use this guide to become a more skillful researcher. Learn how to develop research questions, choose credible sources, evaluate your sources, cite them correctly, and avoid plagiarism

Steps for Planning

Okay, you've gotten your research assignment now what do you do? Begin by thinking about your project and planning your research strategy.

Here's what you should do before you ever start looking for books, articles, or websites:

  1. Understand your assignment
  2. Select a topic that interests you
  3. Develop research questions to drive your search for information
  4. Focus your topic so it is manageable and meaningful
  5. Find search terms
  6. Get help at the Library & Learning Center

Get Help at the Learning Center

The Learning Centers are an integral part of the Library & Learning Centers on both East and West campuses.

Tutors are ready to help you understand your writing assignment, develop topics and focused thesis statements, organize your paper, and much more. Tutors are available on a drop-in basis and by appointment.

Where To Go For Help

East Campus (L&LC East)
209-575-6346

West Campus (Yosemite 235)
209-575-6676

Understand Your Assignment

It may sound simple but understanding your assignment is one of the most important steps you take towards writing a good paper. Your instructor carefully crafted the assignment and may have even used language you can use to guide your search for useful information.

Pay special attention to:

  • Language - Pay close attention to verbs like argue, analyze, compare, or describe to guide your approach to a topic. For example, an assignment that asks you to argue requires you to take a position and support it with facts, statistics, and quotations. An assignment that asks you to analyze, requires you to critically examine your topic. Also, look for descriptive words your instructor uses because you might be able to use them as key terms in searching for relevant information.
  • Scope - Look for "multi-part" assignments in which instructors ask you to do more than one thing. Listing or outlining separate parts of an assignment can help you divide a daunting assignment into manageable parts. You also may see which sections will require research beyond what is covered in class.
  • Instructions - Take note of special instructions regarding format or length restrictions, information source requirements (does he/she require primary source materials or articles from scholarly journals), and grading criteria.

Select A Meaningful Topic

Whenever you are given the freedom to do so, select a topic that genuinely interests you and/or is relevant to your life. Do a quick inventory:

  • What makes you tick? What defines you?
  • What problems affect you or someone close to you?
  • What do you think the biggest problem in society is?

You'll want to consider the following issues before you select your topic:

  • Will it sustain my interest?
  • Does it fit the parameters of my assignment?
  • Is credible information on this topic readily available?

You can get ideas for research topics from several MJC article databases and from the Web.

Best Bets Library Databases:
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Develop Research Questions

You want to approach your research as a quest to uncover answers to questions that didn't exist before. Seeking information to answer research questions is fun and it helps you explore your topic fully.

The video below explains why you should always begin your search for relevant, credible information by creating a list of research questions that will drive your research.

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You can also check out our Develop Research Questions tutorial at the link below:

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Focus Your Topic

To make your topic manageable and meaningful you need to focus on particular aspects of it. You'll get too much information if you stick with an overly-broad concept like global warming; you'll get too little information if you just try to answer a narrow question like What are the causes of global warming.

Your research questions help you identify various aspects of your topic so that you can approach it from different angles, but your questions aren't your topic.

To learn how to focus your topic, look at this brief tutorial from Colorado State University.

Click on the Image Below to Launch the Tutorial:

Five Steps to Better Research Tutorial

Find Search Terms

Using the correct words to search will help you find relevant information. Different authors and search tools use different words to describe the same concepts, so it is useful to have a list of similar and related terms in your arsenal when you set out to search for relevant information. The process of creating these alternative terms is called brainstorming terms or concept mapping.

The University of Illinois Undergraduate Library illustrates this process well in their brief video called, Developing Your Topic with a Concept Map.