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Research Guide: Research Cycle

Information about the research cycle and how to cite sources in MLA, APA, and Chicago

What is Research?

Research is:

  • Driven by a question or problem that then guides the process
  • Seeking information with a clear goal in mind
  • A process, which works best when done step- by-step. The steps may need to be repeated, as the process is reiterative
  • Collection and interpretation of data in an attempt to resolve the problem or answer the question
  • Going beyond facts and old ideas
  • Taking a new look at the information and taking a stand

Research is not:

  • Copying and pasting information you find through a Google search
  • Combining a paragraph from one article with a couple of paragraphs from websites. That's plagiarism.
  • Writing a "report"
  • Rearranging facts
  • Rewording each phrase and citing each source. That's just a summary of facts with someone else's name on them and still can be classified as plagiarism.

Words for the wise student:

Netcaster. David Douglas Duncan, Mexico, 1937. Photography Collection.

  • Remember, begin with a "wide net" in your search and then narrow your search results from there. You will generally find more information than with a very narrow search.
  • Don't wear "blinders" as you look for information on your topic. If you only look for specific information to answer a specific question, you may miss many opportunities to broaden your understanding of your topic.
  • Allow for surprises- you may find your views on your topic will change and take you in an entirely new direction.
  • Remember that research is searching again and again (re - search).
  • In the process of doing research, you will be looking at information that others have looked at before, trying to see something that they have not seen.

[Special thanks to Meg Omainsky for permission to adapt her research guide] 

from The Ridgewood High School Learning Commons 

The Big 6 steps for research

The Big 6 research step can be used to successfully organize, conduct and present your research. The Big 6 was developed by information scientists, Bob Berkowitz and Mike Eisenberg, consists of the following six steps to research success:

Step 1- Task Definition

Step 2- Information Seeking

Step 3- Location and Access

Step 4- Use of Information

Step 5- Synthesis

Step 6- Evaluation

Superficial Research vs Genuine Research

Skyline College has provided an excellent explanation of the problem students have with superficial research:

Many students believe that doing research means copying facts and quotes from various sources, reorganizing and paraphrasing that information, typing it up, and calling it “research.” This superficial approach to research merely reports and summarizes what is already known, and goes no further. Genuine bibliographic research, however, is a far more creative and challenging process.

You are doing genuine research – i.e. not merely summarizing what is already known -- when your research aims to answer a unique, appropriately narrowed research question. In other words, the key to doing authentic research is to find something that you think is worth investigating, put it in the form of a question, and make that the focus of your research.

Let’s take an example. You’ve been assigned to write a paper on the problem of homelessness in America. A superficial (and boring!) approach to this topic would be to find a lot of statistics and quotes about homelessness, incorporate them into your essay, and conclude your paper by saying, “Clearly, the problem of homeless must be addressed.” Nothing new or interesting would be discovered or put forth with this approach, and it would be uninspiring for you to write and for your professor to read.

You could, however, conduct genuine research into this subject by formulating an interesting research question and making that your focus. Here’s one possibility: “How do programs that require homeless persons to enroll in rehabilitation and job training affect homeless rates in American cities?”

With a solid research question in mind, you begin gathering information from a variety of sources. You will uncover different ideas and perspectives, which you must analyze, compare, and evaluate. You read what others have written because their writings inform, strengthen, complement, or challenge your own ideas. By the end of the process, you should be able to present your own evaluative perspective – your own informed opinion. Although no instructor will expect you to become a world-renown expert on a topic or settle a long-running debate, you will be expected to show original thinking in your thesis statement, discussion, and conclusion.

The table below summarizes the differences between superficial and genuine research:

  • No unique research question formulated
  • Random copying of facts and quotes
  • Merely rewriting and paraphrasing information
  • Overly general, very broad survey of a subject
  • Lack of depth and analysis
  • No attempt to present a unique look at a topic
  • No evaluative perspective or informed opinion
  • Summarizing what is already known
  • Research is focused on a unique,
    personally interesting, appropriately
    narrowed, research question
  • Facts, quotes and other information
    gathered informs, complements,
    strengthens, or challenges your own ideas
  • Presents an evaluative perspective
    and/or an informed opinion on the research question
  • An honest attempt at contributing something, fresh, unique and exciting

 from "Superficial Research vs. Genuine Research"