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FYS 100 Libguide: The Research Process

Developed as a part of the Credo Reference Learning Community.

Where Do You Start?

Where do you start?

Ever have a research paper due and have no idea where to start ... or even how to find help? Well have no fear! This guide will break the research process down into two easy parts: Planning and implementation.                         

Just follow this outline and you will be well on your way to becoming an expert researcher! 

The Research Process Part 1: Planning

The first step in the research process is planning. This is an important step and will make your research go much more smoothly. In this step, you will: 

* Brainstorm and narrow your topic: Brainstorming is an excellent way to start the research process and to identify related ideas. Brainstorming can take the form of lists, freewriting, concept mapping, outlines, or even diagrams. These, along with basic background information, will help you get an idea of related keywords and can help you define your topic. Once you start researching, you may notice that you topic is too broad or too narrow and should adjust it accordingly.

* Develop a thesis statement: Thesis statements explain your objective or perspective to the reader. They are very concise statements and the entire paper will refer back to it. It is possible that your statement may evolve as you get deeper into your research, so you need to keep your statement in mind.

* Identify your information needs: Ask yourself questions about type of information that you need. Do you need to use any particular publications? Specific journal articles? General reference sources? How much information do you need? Which journals or databases are subject related and might have the information you need? Answering these questions will give you an idea of what you can look for when it comes time to do your research.

The Research Process Part 2: Implementation

The second step in the research process is the actual implementation of your research planning. This includes the actual research as well as the synthesis of new information in your writing. In this step you will:

* Find & evaluate sources: Your actual research begins here and continues throughout the process. Once you have your information needs defined, you should have some idea of where to start looking for information, or even have some books, articles, or web resources in mind. Be sure to evaluate every source, especially those you find on the open web. Ask yourself objective questions about the source: Who published it? Why did they publish it? When and where was it published? How did you find it? 

* Use information ethically and appropriately: You must use your resources ethically. This means that you must cite any information you get from another source even if you put it in your own words! It is against academic policy to present the thoughts, words, or ideas of someone else as your own.  

* Synthesize and evaluate: Finally, you cannot simply restate the ideas of others, even if you cite them correctly. You must take the information that you find and combine it with what you already know to come out with an entirely new product or idea. This is the most advanced stage of the research process and will use all of your critical and creative thinking skills. It is also the most beneficial to your academic and professional career.


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The Research Process Part 1: Planning

The Research Process: Planning




The Research Process Part 2: Implementation

The Research Process: Implementation





Library Terms A to Z

Abstract - A brief, objective summary of the essential content of a book, article, report, etc., presenting only the main points.  A well-prepared abstract enables readers to 1) quickly identify the basic content of the document, 2) determine its relevance to their interests, and 3) decide whether it is worth their time to read the entire document. 

Bibliography – A list of written works that includes only the pertinent publication information: the title, author (or editor), publisher, place, date. Bibliographies often appear at the end of a book or article. (see also "Works Cited")

Boolean searching – A system of searching developed by George Boole which allows for the combination of words and phrases to ease searching.

      OR is used to expand searches to include synonyms and related words. Example: H1N1 or influenza

      AND is used to narrow searches. Example: Haiti and earthquake

      NOT is used to exclude things from your search. Example: education not elementary

Citation – A written or spoken reference to another work or portion of another work which clearly identifies where the work can be found.  There are several citation styles (for example APA/American Psychological Association and MLA/Modern Language Association).  Though the styles differ they generally all include the following: title of work, author (editor, composer), and publication information.

Database – A large and regularly updated file of digitized (electronic) records.  At Marshall University,  most of the databases are catalogs, periodical indexes, abstracts and full text reference resources. Although a website also presents digitized information, databases are "proprietary" (that is, one pays for access). As a student, you pay for access to the library's databases through your tuition. Databases generally contain reliable, fact-checked information and/or research by professionals in the field.

Ebook – A book available in electronic form; also called a digital book.

Electronic journal – A digital version of a journal.  Some electronic journals are accessible through the Web.  MU Libraries provides students, faculty and staff access to thousands of electronic journals through subscription databases available through the Library website.

Index – 1) Generally found in the back of a book, an index is an alphabetical list of names, places and topics in a book.  The entries are accompanied by page numbers where they can be found in the book.  2) An index may also refer to any sort of systematic list of sources (e.g. a periodical index). 

Journal (also called a scholarly journal) – A type of periodical publication (something that is published at regular intervals, usually four times a year) containing up-to-date research and commentary in a specific field of study. Journals are generally written and reviewed by experts in the field.

Magazine (also called a popular magazine) – A type of periodical publication (something that is published at regular intervals, usually weekly or monthly) containing information of interest to the general public. Magazines are usually focused on a theme (politics, fashion, entertainment, home decor) and are generally written by professional writers and editors employed by the magazine. Magazines are not considered "scholarly" sources.

Periodical – In general, any publication that is published at regular intervals: magazines, journals, and newsletters. 

Primary source – A document which contains first hand information or original ideas or research on a particular topic. 

Reference sources– Books and other materials containing dependable information.  Examples include dictionaries, indexes, handbooks, and encyclopedias.  At MU Libraries, patrons cannot check out materials in the reference collection; they must be used in the library. Many reference sources, however, are now accessible online through the MU Libraries website.  

Secondary source – A document that describes, summarizes, evaluates and/or analyses a primary source.

Serial – A publication issued in succession, for example periodicals, newspapers, and other continuing publications. (See also "Periodical)

Subject heading – A subject heading is a specific word that describes what a document (manuscript, book, periodical, etc…) is about.

Website– A collection of related web pages containing digitized (electronic) information in a variety of forms (text, image, audio, video, etc.). Although a database also presents digitized information, websites are generally not proprietary (one does need need to pay for access), and the information presented may be written by anyone and thus is generally less reliable and difficult to verify. A website is hosted on a web server through an internet address known as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The URL of a given website ends in a suffix that indicates the site's general category. For example:

  • .com = commercial
  • .edu = educational 
  • .gov = government
  • .mil = military
  • .net = networking (e.g. internet service providers)
  • .org = non-commercial organizations (usually non-profit)

The URL suffixes above can often (but not always) give the reader a clue about the reliability of the website's information and possible organizational bias.

Works cited – A list of documents that have been quoted in a larger work. Each item in the list includes pertinent publication information: title, author (or editor), publisher, place, date. Works Cited lists often appear at the end of a book or article. (See also "Bibliography")

Definitions adapted from ODLIS — Reitz, J. M. (n.d.).