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The Simple Seven: Developing a Step-By-Step Research Process

Developed By: Mrs. Corey Library Media Specialist

Research Is Easy . . . Right? As you begin to enter the later years of high school and begin thinking about college, it’s likely your outlook and habits have been pretty well-formed when it comes to research. However, in the early years of your education, it’s more likely that . . . YOU DIDN’T RESEARCH,YOU REGURGITATED! Think about it. When researching, did you read a book, article, website, etc. and then simply recycle it, along with a citation? We may think of this as research, but really, it’s not. You’re simply restating, regurgitating, recycling facts. ACADEMIC RESEARCH SHOWS HOW YOU INTERPRET INFORMATION ABOUT A TOPIC We can use some pretty big words to describe this - SYNTHESIS or METACOGNITION - but ultimately this is what ACADEMIC RESEARCH entails. The difficulty in developing true academic research is that the process involved can be unwieldy. Therefore, we’ll take it step by step using a topic you’ve used before . . . BODY IMAGE

Step One: Brainstorm BRAINSTORMING is a step you’ve likely experienced before. However, we can make it a little easier by developing a few steps . . . 1. Read a Wikipedia article on the topic. This is a great place to start, but not where you always want to end up when researching. This provides us with KEYWORDS and possible RESOURCES.

2. Develop a list of KEYWORDS related to the topic. These will come in handy when searching for more information, because academics and scholars sometimes use terminology we don’t know! You can simply jot these down or make mental notes. BODY IMAGE ----->


Step Two: Question Here’s a step in the research process you’ve likely done without knowing it! It’s always a good idea to start THINKING CRITICALLY about your topic. You should begin to FRAME QUESTIONS relating to your topic in order to NARROW or BROADEN your final research topic. This depends on what your teacher or professor has given to you as a prompt, so let’s look at a few examples. If you were assigned a paper on BODY IMAGE, that’s likely TOO BROAD. Topics that are broad can be difficult to handle. From our BRAINSTORMING session, you could develop the following QUESTIONS . . . What effects does the media have on body image? Are women affected more than men? Are there medical conditions affected by/caused by body image? What’s the difference between positive and negative body image? See? You likely did this with your last paper with your pre-determined sources! On the other hand, sometime you are assigned topics that are VERY NARROW. Think about this topic . . . In what ways does print media negatively affect the body image of pre-teen girls? Use specific examples from magazines directed at the 9-13 year-old demographic. This provides you with a very defined topic you have little control over. This happens a lot in college and beyond. However, we can still develop some QUESTIONS . . . What mechanisms are used by print media to deliver messages with negative body image? What is the current depiction of body image among pre-teen girls? What specific publications are marketed to pre-teen girls?

Step Three: Search This is the part with which we all have experience! By preparing with Steps One and Two, we can now search more EFFECTIVELY and EFFICIENTLY! Let’s spend some time looking at how we can use our KEYWORDS and QUESTIONS with a few search tools . . .

Here are some KEYWORDS . . . BODY IMAGE ----->


Here are some QUESTIONS . . . What effects does the media have on body image? Are women affected more than men? Are there medical conditions affected by/caused by body image? What’s the difference between positive and negative body image? By using Google Advanced search, we can quickly develop a focused search . . .

Let’s compare that to simply asking Google one of our questions . . .

By developing a STRUCTURED SEARCH QUERY you receive much lower, higher quality results. It’s tempting to ask Google a question, but when we have a very focused idea of what information we need, you need to be direct. This is a hard skill to develop. Here’s how I looked at my KEYWORDS and QUESTIONS to decide what to search: KEYWORDS . . . exact phrase


exact phrase BODY IMAGE ----->



What effects does the media have on body image? Are women affected more than men? Are there medical conditions affected by/caused by body image? What’s the difference between positive and negative body image? exact phrase I’m not trying every single keyword or question in one search. I may need to revise my search or try multiple searches to find every bit of information I need.

My last tip when it comes to searching is USE BENTONLIBRARY.ORG to search DATABASES for ARTICLES. To put it simply . . . DATABASE = MORE ACADEMIC SEARCH ENGINE DATABASE = INFORMATION THAT COSTS MONEY DATABASE = FINDS INFORMATION NOT FOUND USING GOOGLE You’ll use databases very extensively in college and beyond. DATABASES are simply online collections of print media (and often online media) that’s been scanned, digitized, indexed, and made searchable.

DATABASES also have a variety of media that Google does not . . . . DATABASES









But why would you want JOURNAL ARTICLES over BREAKING NEWS? Anything published in an ACADEMIC JOURNAL is thoroughly researched, peer reviewed, and well-cited. This means the information is likely error-free and more reliable, but more on that in a bit . . .

Step Four: Evaluate Now that you’ve found information, it’s time to accept it on face value and move on, right? Wrong! Even when finding information from JOURNAL ARTICLES, it’s important to EVALUATE INFORMATION based on a variety of CRITERIA. Why should we EVALUATE? Because there is so much information produced every single day, we need to make sure it is the best possible information for our topic. Here are the FOUR ELEMENTS OF EVALUATION I use most often with information I find when researching . . .

We can look at each of these in more detail . . .

Let’s use these four criteria to evaluate the first result returned from our Google Advanced Search (http:// Could I find something more current? Likely. Also, this is a copyright date and CURRENCY not a date the actual content was updated.



These are all linked to full citations for journal articles, likely not faked.

This is linked to a thorough biography about Marcella. She has a degree in public health and is very credentialed.


Primarily factual, but we should also read/skim through the content to determine whether bias is present. If so, we may need to determine whether the bias is backed by facts or is pure conjecture.

Step Five: Organize There are various methods of organizing your information as you research. These include, but are not limited to . . . Bookmarking links using services like Delicious or Diigo Saving notes using apps and programs like Livebinders or Evernote Taking notes in a print notebook or a Google Doc Writing quotes from articles or websites on one side of a notecard and copying the citation to the other side Printing off websites and articles to annotate, highlight, and flag them along with native print materials like books Any of these methods are acceptable! However, it is a good idea to find a method you like and stick with it!

Step Six: Write This step is better left to your Communication Arts instructor as far as mechanics and parameters are concerned. However, it is always important to remember that you are ultimately presenting your own findings through the information. Your writing should show how you interpreted and found the information via the connections you make between ideas and resources. That’s not to say you should always say “I feel . . .” or “they felt . . .” when writing about your topic. Instead, you could use the following sort of language for a thesis statement . . . Based on the information presented, it can be concluded that media has a negative effect on body image primarily due to the unrealistic depiction of “ideal weight” as being 20% lower than the national average (citation). Again, you’re displaying that through your research you found out . . . body image can be negatively impacted . . . media has an impact on body image . . . ideal weight is depicted as being a certain number of pounds . . . national average weight is actually higher YOU WILL LIKELY NOT FIND A SINGLE SOURCE SUPPORTING EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR PAPER, ESPECIALLY AS YOU DEAL WITH COMPLEX TOPICS. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING! THIS IS THE PROCESS OF DOING ACADEMIC RESEARCH TO UNCOVER NEW UNDERSTANDING.

Step Seven: Cite This is the final step and can be a difficult one! Again, ORGANIZATION can help immensely when it comes time to cite your sources! You can find plenty of websites about the mechanics of citing a source. One I like the best is the OWL @ PURDUE. Guides to both MLA and APA are included for a variety of citation requirements (in-text versus bibliography) and resource types. It is also important to discuss WHY WE CITE. We cite anything that influenced our thinking. This is mainly to AVOID PLAGIARISM in the short term, but in the long term it makes you a more ethical user of information. PLAGIARISM is basically defined as presenting the ideas of another person as your own. There is a lot of gray area involved, but realized that WHEN IN DOUBT, CITE is an excellent policy! Plagiarism is taken very seriously at the college level and developing good citation habits early on will help you avoid any issues! Be sure to check out BENTONLIBRARY.ORG for the HOW DO I? section. Guides on the library website include . . . HOW DO I CITE MY SOURCES? AVOIDING PLAGIARISM

Questions? Contact Mrs. Corey! Twitter: @melissacorey Email: or Chat: Go to and use the chat widget

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