The Research Process
This page will help guide you through the entire research process, from start to finish.
Choosing a Topic
Brainstorm for topic ideas, tips
Encyclopedias, general news articles, bibliographies
Identify important concepts, choose subject area, recent or historical, choose database or
index, search, evaluate search results
Finding Materials at University of Illinois Libraries
Necessary citation information, finding and requesting journals, tutorial
Evaluating web-based resources
Using Refereed/Peer-Reviewed Research
Understand, identify, and use research from refereed and peer-reviewed sources
What citation analysis is, and how it might benefit you in your research
How to create an annotated bibliography
Writing a Research Proposal
You may need to request support for sponsored research, instruction, or extension
Creating New Information
Resources to help with the issues you may face in creating new information
Dissertation & Thesis Writing Tips
Tips if you're having trouble with the process of writing your thesis or dissertation
Documenting resources used in your research
Productivity Tools and Current Awareness
Organize your research, collaborate with others, and stay up-to-date in your field
Share Your Research
Communicating your research with the larger community
Copyright and Visual Media
Find out when you can use an image and when you need permission
If you know you are interested in doing research in a broad subject area, try to think of ways
you can make your subject more specific.
Example: writing a paper about global warming
Brainstorm for topic ideasWhat aspects of your topic are you interested in?
- Environmental-- The impact of global warming on the sea level.
- Economic-- The impact of global warming on the agricultural industry.
- Political-- Frequently representatives of countries gather together to address pollution
problems that may contribute to global warming. Has this process been effective?
- Geographic Area-- How will global warming affect developing countries?
- Time Period-- Have reports of global warming increased over the past 10 years?
- I've heard that there is disagreement in the scientific community about the existence of global
warming. What are the arguments on both sides of this issue?
Some tips to consider when choosing a topic:
- When selecting a topic, be sure to choose a subject area that is of genuine interest to
- Consult your instructor, as he or she may be able to give advice concerning paper topics.
- In order to articulate your ideas, it helps to express your topic idea as a question.
industry > Will global warming cause the grain belt to move north? Will farmers have to change
their crops as a result of global warming?
- What if you don't have enough information to express your topic idea as a specific question? If
this is the case, doing some background reading can help you to articulate your research
Choosing a topic or
a topic and create a concept map.
Finding background information about a topic is an important step of the research process. If
you are interested in pursuing a topic which is unfamiliar to you, reading an encyclopedia or a
general article about the subject can allow you to articulate your topic idea and assist in
pointing out areas for further research.
Sources to consult for background information include:
EncyclopediasEncyclopedias are available in both general and subject specific formats. If you are just
beginning your research and need general background information, sources like the Encyclopedia
Britannica or the Encyclopedia Americana can be good starting points. Subject specific
encyclopedias can give you background information about a particular discipline or subject area.
Examples of subject specific encyclopedias include
The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology and the
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. There are many encyclopedias available
covering different subject areas. If you are having trouble finding an encyclopedia to use for
background information in your research, be sure to
Ask a Librarian.
General news articlesNews articles in a newspaper or general magazine can give you a starting point for your
research. Article databases that you can use to find general articles include
InfoTrac. Please see the
databases listed under General Interest Databases on the
Article Database page
for more information.
BibliographiesExperts in a particular field will sometimes compile lists of useful resources for people
pursuing research. Many bibliographies on a variety of topics are published in book form and are
available at the Illinois library. The home pages for some UIUC departmental libraries may also
provide information about bibliographies for their particular subject. For more information, please
Quick tip:To search the library catalog for bibliographies, do a
keyword subject search by typing the word bibliography and words that describe the topic
of your research. For example, if you are researching a paper on global warming, you could run a
search for 'bibliography global warming' to see what resources are available. For more information,
Top Ten Tips for Tackling Tricky Database Queries.
You can find more background information in the Library's
Searching for sources
- Identify important concepts in your topic.
- Once you have articulated your topic, try to pick out important concepts or keywords which you
can use when you search for articles.
Example: How will
global warming affect
- Identify the subject area.
For the global warming and developing countries topic there are a couple subject areas to
consider when trying to choose a database or index. The issue of global warming could be described
scientific. The fact that the issue of developing countries is also a factor means that
the subject area also involves
Consider how recent or historical your search is.
Since global warming is a recent concern, finding the most current articles would be useful.
- Choose the appropriate article database or index.
- Look at the
Journals and Databases and match the subject areas of your topic with the subject areas of
the different article databases that are available for you to search.
Example: For the Global Warming topic, you can look at the Life Sciences & Medicine database
subject area and see that there is an Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management database that
deals with environmental issues. By looking at the Social Sciences, Business, & Education
database subject area, you can also see that the
Archive (Public Affairs Information Service) database might have articles dealing with
developing countries. Searching both of these databases for articles relating to your topic would
be a good place to start your research.
- Run the search.
- Think about the important concepts and subject area of your topic. Choose keywords that you can
use to search the databases.
Example: In the topic "How will global warming affect developing countries?" the important
concepts are global warming and developing countries. One way to make sure that your search for
articles is effective is to think of synonyms or additional words to describe your topic.
global warming: greenhouse effect, climate change
developing countries: developing nations, underdeveloped countries, third world
- Most article databases allow you to build your searches by combining similar concepts with the
OR. This will result in a broader search.
For example: global warming
OR greenhouse effect
OR climate change will find any article that has
any of the three concepts in it. You can combine dissimilar concepts to create a focused
Example: The search "global warming
AND developing countries" will find any article that has
both concepts in it. For example, the search "(global warming
OR greenhouse effect)
AND developing countries" will find any article that has
either global warming
or greenhouse effect as terms
and the term developing countries.
Choosing an article
database. You may also visit this
Information Literacy Tutorial, a
LEARN LibGuide, for help with finding, evaluating, and using sources.
- Look at the number of article citations you were able to retrieve. If you retrieved more
articles than you expected and they don't seem to be relevant to your topic, you may need to add
another concept or keyword to your search statement in order to narrow your search. If you
retrieved fewer articles than you expected, perhaps your search statement was too narrow. You might
want to take some keywords out of your search statement to create a broader search which will
retrieve more articles.
- Look at the abstract or subject headings of the article citations you have retrieved to
determine if they are relevant to your research.
- If you want more information about how to search article databases,
offered every semester.
- If you are having any trouble searching the article databases, check out
tips on locating articles
or be sure to
Ask a Librarian for help.
Necessary InformationOnce you have successfully searched and found citations or references to articles which you
think might be useful, the next step is to find copies of the articles in question. In order to
search for the location of a journal that contains an article you are interested in, it is
necessary to have the following information:
- Title of the journal
- Date the article was published
- Year and volume of the journal
- Page numbers of the article
Journals & Databases to find the location of the journal you need. Since you know the exact
title of the journal, use the
Title search in the catalog to search for the location of the journal at the
University of Illinois library.
Ask a Librarian for help.
It is important to carefully examine the articles you find in order to see if they will truly be
helpful to you in your research. The list of questions below is intended to provide a starting
point for evaluating an article in four major categories: accuracy, content, author, and date.
Accuracy-- Based on your knowledge of the subject, does the article seem to be accurate?
Are any conclusions supported or backed up by convincing data?
Coverage-- Does the article fully address the issues raised? Is the coverage
comprehensive, or do you need additional sources? Is the article objective, or does it seem to be
based on opinion?
Authority-- Are the authors authorities in their fields? Have they published extensively
on this topic? Are they affiliated with a reputable university or institution?
Currency-- When was the article published? Is it current enough for your topic? Do you
need to find similar articles that are more up-to-date?
Evaluating Web-Based ResourcesAre you using Web-based resources in your research? Web ages also need to be evaluated to
determine if they will be useful in your research. In most cases you may apply the criteria you
would use in evaluating print resources to the evaluation of Web-based resources. It is important
to remember that unlike scholarly print publications, where articles are subjected to a process of
review, anyone can publish on the Web. Many webpages are also designed to be commercial as opposed
to educational. For more information about evaluating Web resources, please see the following
"Is it Scholarly?" page.
Your professors may require you to use peer-reviewed or refereed journal articles for your
assignments. If you ever do independent projects, you will need to know how to identify
refereed/peer-reviewed research. The LEARN to Use the Library
Using Refereed/Peer-Reviewed Research tutorial
will help you understand, identify, and use research from refereed and peer-reviewed sources by
examining specific examples from the University of Illinois.
In order to gauge the impact of a particular publication, it can be useful to know the number of
times it has been cited by other authors. Counting citations is often referred to as "citation
analysis." "Citation chasing" - discovering other publications through citations, is a way of
following a scholarly conversation and learning more about your research topic. For a tutorial on
this topic, see the LEARN to Use the Library page on
Citation Analysis. One type of citation
analysis is Impact Factor, which you can learn more about on the
Impact Factor LEARN site page. For information
on alternatives to traditional citation counting (called "altmetrics") visit the
Altmetrics LEARN site page.
As a part of your coursework you may be asked to create an annotated bibliogrpahy. An annotated
bibliography is a bibliography in which each source is briefly summarized and/or evaluated. An
annotation can be helpful to the researcher in evaluating whether the source is relevant to a given
topic or line of inquiry.
The purpose of an annotated bibliography is to reflect on the
things that you have read in your research and begin to synthesize the ideas you have gathered. An
annotated bibliography may point your readers towards more sources on the topic that may be
interesting or helpful for them.
Creating an annotated bibliography can be a very natural part of the research process. As you
identify research questions and find sources that answer those questions, take notes on the
materials that you've read and create a comprehensive list of sources. (Citation
Managers can help you keep track of your sources in an organized fashion.)
For each source on your list, you should summarize the content, assess the quality and relevancy
of the source to your project, and reflect on the big ideas explicated in the source. Write a few
sentences based on your reflections.
Depending on your field, you may cite your sources in a variety of styles, such as APA, MLA, or
Chicago. See the
citation guide for more
information. Annotations may be in different formats depending on your class and professor, but
usually you should just write a few sentences that summarize and evaluate the work.
Sample entry:Gilbert, Pam. "From Voice to Text: Reconsidering
Writing and Reading in the English Classroom."
English Education, 23.4 (1991): 195-211.
Gilbert provides some insight into the concept of "voice" in textual interpretation, and pointsThe annotation above is effective because it briefly summarizes the article's argument, places
to a need to move away from the search for voice in reading. Her reasons stem from a growing danger
of "social and critical illiteracy," which might be better dealt with through a move toward
different textual understandings. Gilbert suggests that theories of language as a social practice
can be more useful in teaching. Her ideas seem to disagree with those who believe in a dominant
voice in writing, but she presents an interesting perspective.
the argument in the context of the field, and evaluates the article.
- How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography (Cornell):
- Annotated Bibliographies (The OWL at Purdue):
At some point, you may need to write a research proposal. A proposal is a request for support of
sponsored research, instruction, or extension projects. Proposals are intended to answer questions
about the nature of the project, how the project relates to the sponsor's interests, what your
background is in this area of research, how you will carry out the project, and why you are the
right person for the project. There are a few different types of proposals, and there are
particular components of a research proposal. For more information about research proposals, go to
the LEARN to Use the Library
Writing a Research Proposal page.
Not sure how to get started with your dissertation or thesis? Having trouble with the writing
process? LEARN to Use the Library has a page devoted to
General Dissertation & Thesis Writing
The library can help you not only access information sources but also create new information.
Below are some issues you may face in creating new information, and how the library can help.
Academic IntegrityAcademic Integrity means honesty and
responsibility in scholarship. Students and faculty alike must obey rules of honest scholarship,
which means that all academic work should result from an individual's own efforts. Intellectual
contributions from others must be consistently and responsibly acknowledged. Academic work
completed in any other way is fraudulent.
Visualization of ResearchThe Library's experts can help you visualize your data.
Attend a workshop to learn more. Check out
A Periodic Table of
Working with DataThe Library can assist you with
Numberic and Spatial data.
Data Management Plan (DMP) Tool: From the website - "The DMP
Tool allows you to: create ready-to-use data management plans for specific funding agencies, meet
funder requirements for data management plans, get step-by-step instructions and guidance for your
data management plan as you build it, and in many cases, get data management advice and resources
for your specific institution."
Scanning and Digitization ServicesThe Library has
scanning and digitization services to help support
The Center for Writing Studies - Writer's WorkshopAnyone can
set up an appointment with the
Writer's Workshop to work with a writing consultant.
In order to avoid plagiarism or other academic integrity infractions at the University of
Illinois, it is necessary to cite your sources. Go to the
Cite a Source LEARN site page. Learn more
about why citing sources is necessary on the
Academic Integrity & Plagiarism page.
Usually a professor will tell you if there is a preferred citation style for your research
project. The list that follows is a sample of some of the online resources that are available for
people with style and grammar questions.
This site contains resources covering most grammar and writing needs specifically for
University of Illinois students.
Information about how to cite both print and online materials.
Internet Public Library collection of style manuals and guides on how to cite sources found
on the Internet or other electronic formats.
The Slot: A Spot for
Written by a Washington Post Copy Editor, this site serves as a supplement to the AP style
book. Contains good advice on lots of tricky or picky situations and is fun to read.
Victoria Writer's Guide
A dynamic database suitable for answering most writing questions.
William Strunk Jr.'s Elements of Style (1918 ed.)eBook
The classic guide to usage, composition, and form for the English language.
Sharing your research, whether locally or internationally, requires you to make decision
regarding your work. Consult with your
specialist librarian to learn more.
The publication process - videos
Scholarly communication issues
Conferences and symposiums
Sharing through social media
Productivity Tools for Scholarship LEARN
site page provides links to a number of tools for staying organized, taking notes, organizing and
annotating pdf's, managing data, managing projects, and collaborating with others. The
Current Awareness LEARN site page provides
information for how to stay up-to-date in your field, including using RSS feeds to receive updated
information from online sources.
publishing with Cell Press. Are you looking to submit an article for publication for the first
time? These videos provide an excellent introduction to the submission process. From the website:
"Watch four Cell Press editors answer questions from three early career scientists about preparing,
submitting and publishing an article in a Cell Press journal." Videos include discussions on
preparing a manuscript submission, what happens after the initial submission, the decision process,
and what happens after manuscript acceptance.
ACS: Publishing your research 101.
The American Chemical Society produced videos that give an overview of the publishing process
including "How to write a paper to communicate your research," "writing your cover letter,"
"Selecting peers to suggest as reviewers," "Ethical considerations for authors and reviewers," "The
review process for authors and reviewers," and "Open access and ACS AuthorChoice."
- Learn more about
using copyrighted works in teaching, research, and scholarship. Despite
U.S. copyright law and
international laws, students and faculty must determine if materials they want to use are under
copyright and if so, if their intended use could be protected by fair use. Because copyright law is
interpretive, this website does not offer definitive or legal answers, but Scholarly Commons
experts are available to help students and faculty talk through these issues.
- It is imperative in your role as an instructor and researcher that
you have an understanding
of fair use. Copyright law includes a variety of limitations and exceptions that govern
the ways that copyrighted material may be used. The exception most people have heard about is fair
use. Below are brief descriptions and links to some of the limitations and exceptions set out in
out the Fair use checklist.
- The Open Access movement allows you to
for anyone to read, distribute, reproduce, print, or search on the internet.
- Learn more about
assign a Creative Commons license to your work as well as how you can use Creative Commons
licensed work. Creative Commons licenses are agreements that allow copyright holders to modify the
copyrights for their works. Creative Commons licenses specifically address four aspects of use:
attribution, the manner of sharing allowed, creation of derivative works, the commercial
- What are y
our rights as an author? As the original author of a work, you hold the copyright to that work. The decision to
reproduce, alter, or distribute the work is entirely in your hands. However, you can sign these
rights away to publishing companies if you are not careful.
- As an instructor, copyright law determines how you can and cannot use copyrighted materials in
the classroom and online. Learn more about the
TEACH Act, course reserves course
packs, and University of Illinois policy. Section 110 of copyright law is an exception that
addresses classroom use of copyrighted material. This section makes it legal to use materials for
- The class is face-to-face and located in a classroom or similar educational setting (see the
Act for distance education settings)
- The school is a non-profit institution
- The school legally owns a copy of the material being shared
- The information is necessary to the course
- The class is face-to-face and located in a classroom or similar educational setting (see the
Stay up-to-date on the
ever-changing landscape of copyright concerns by monitoring the news and social media
- "Can I Use that Picture?": Find out more about
Terms, Laws, and Ethics for Using Copyrighted Images.
Rights: The University of Illinois Library's Author Rights campaign seeks to help scholars
take control of their work and their careers by becoming more informed about trends in scholarly
IDEALS: Illinois Digital Environment for
Access to learning and Scholarship: Deposit your work into the University of Illinois'
institutional repository so that you can share your work with colleagues and the world.
Factors: Impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which the "average article"
published in a given scholarly journal has been cited in a particular year or period and is often
used to measure or describe the importance of a particular journal to its field. The
Thomson-Reuters (formerly Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)) ranks, evaluates, and
compares journals within subject categories and publishes the results in
Journal Citation Reports.
Altmetrics: Altmetrics, or “alternative metrics,” are an emerging field of new methods for measuring the
use and importance of scholarly articles, particularly in the sciences.
When searching for images to use in your research, it is important to keep in mind the laws,
ethics, and terms of using images. This is necessary for avoiding copyright infringement. The links
below are intended to serve as guides in determining when it is legal to use an image, and when
permission must first be granted. Information about copyright can be interpreted differently, so use your best judgment. Also,
please note that laws may be different in other countries.
I Use that Picture?: The Terms, Laws, and Ethics for Using Copyrighted Images - an
infographic (thumbnail above) from
Some additional sources, including a critique of Can I Use that
Picture?, are listed below:
deconstruction of Can I Use that Picture? from
Copyright Librarian, Nancy Sims
The Can I
Use that Picture? infographic overlaid with comments from
- For help with US Copyright law, use the
Digital Copyright Slider
developed by the American Library Association
The Research Process