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The Research Process

This guide is created to help students through the steps of writing a research paper or project.


Welcome to the Research Process library guide! Use the menu on the left to get research advice that will help you successfully navigate the Library's print and electronic collections. 

If you're new to the Library, you may want to visit our Library tutorial guide to learn about the library, library resources and services that are available to you. 

If you need help, you can email your librarian or consult the Library's tutorials. You can also schedule a meeting with a tutor on campus (Canton or Macomb) or online. We offer additional tutoring through, email/call a Student Success Coach for more details. 

Canton/Havana Student Success Coach:
Catherine Calvert
(309) 649-6225

Macomb/Rushville Student Success Coach:
Lydia Perrilles
(309) 649-6048

Getting Started

Purpose of the Assignment

Depending on your topic and the type of assignment, you will need varies types of resources from books from academic publishers, articles from scholarly journals, data and statistics, primary sources, articles from trade journals and popular publications, images, and more. All of these types of sources can be found in the library and on the library's website. 

When getting started on a research assignment or project, the first thing you should do is carefully read the assignment to find out what your instructor expects. In addition to carefully reading any assignment prompts, directions, rubrics, etc. that your instructor has provided, you may also want to consult these tips and tools for specific types of research assignments and writing in particular fields. 

Once you've familiarized yourself with the particulars of your assignment, you will need to start thinking about a topic. If you're choosing your own topic, the next section of this guide, Selecting a Topic has useful advice on that. If your topic has been decided for you, you can jump ahead to Searching Techniques. 

Clues to look for:

• Connecting the assignment to your course content - there could be references to the textbook or assignments from class, listen for verbal clues from your instructor.

• Questions - there could be one or more questions you are required to answer. 

• Style and tone - your instructor may ask for an informal, formal, opinion, or academic tone for the paper or project.  

• Look for active verbs in the assignment description.

Active Verbs and Definitions

     Information words ask you to demonstrate what you know about the subject, such as who, what, when, where, how,       and why.

define—give the subject’s meaning (according to someone or something). Sometimes you have to give more than one view on the subject’s meaning

explain—give reasons why or examples of how something happened

illustrate—give descriptive examples of the subject and show how each is connected with the subject

summarize—briefly list the important ideas you learned about the subject

trace—outline how something has changed or developed from an earlier time to its current form

research—gather material from outside sources about the subject, often with the implication or requirement that you will analyze what you have found

     Relation words ask you to demonstrate how things are connected.

compare—show how two or more things are similar

contrast—show how two or more things are dissimilar

apply—use details that you’ve been given to demonstrate how an idea, theory, or concept works in a particular situation

cause—show how one event or series of events made something else happen

relate—show or describe the connections between things

     Interpretation words ask you to defend ideas of your own about the subject. Do not see these words as requesting           opinion alone (unless the assignment specifically says so), but as requiring opinion that is supported by concrete                   evidence. Remember examples, principles, definitions, or concepts from class or research and use them in your                     interpretation.

assess—summarize your opinion of the subject and measure it against something

prove, justify—give reasons or examples to demonstrate how or why something is the truth

evaluate, respond—state your opinion of the subject as good, bad, or some combination of the two, with examples and reasons

support—give reasons or evidence for something you believe (be sure to state clearly what it is that you believe)

synthesize —put two or more things together that have not been put together in class or in your readings before; do not just summarize one and then the other and say that they are similar or different—you must provide a reason for putting them together that runs all the way through the paper

analyze—determine how individual parts create or relate to the whole, figure out how something works, what it might mean, or why it is important

argue—take a side and defend it with evidence against the other side