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General Research Guide

A general guide for researching any topic using library resources and the open web.

The Research Process

You can either use the Thinking Tool linked above, or follow the steps below.

Step One: Choose Your Topic

Pick a topic that interests you! Your research and writing process will be more meaningful if you're working with a topic that you're eager to explore. Make sure your topic is researchable – you’ll be able to find plenty of information to support your argument or to provide a well-rounded explanation. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t pick topics that are too broad: Example – Global Warming (There are millions of resources to sift through on Global Warming.)
  • Don’t pick topics that are too narrow: Example – The effects of budget cuts on Kennedy High School in Sacramento (You might be able to find a few local newspaper articles, but it’s likely that no one has done in-depth research just on Kennedy High School.)
  • Do consider the 5 W’s when trying to focus your topic:
    • Who...am I interested in?
    • What...issue or event is important?
    • When...what is the time period I am focusing on?
    • Where...what is the geographic area I am interested in?
    • Why...is this issue or topic important?
  • Once you have a topic, do find background information in an encyclopedia, such as Gale Ebooks.

Step Two: Start Your Search

  • Before you begin your search, make sure you understand the requirements of the assignment. Some good questions are:
    • How many pages?
    • How many sources?
    • What kinds of sources?
  • Use keywords that you gathered from your background reading or prior knowledge.
  • Search for books, articles, and news in OneSearch, or try an advanced Google search to find websites on your topic.

Step Three: Put It All Together

  • Begin organizing an outline for your paper or presentation, incorporating the resources you discovered in your search.
  • You may need to repeat previous steps to fill in any information gaps.
  • Be sure to save the publication information for each of your sources to create your citation page.

Research Tutorials

If you want more hands on practice with research, you can also enroll in the self-paced tutorials in Canvas.

Topics include:

  • What is Research?
  • Getting Started with Research
  • OneSearch Basics
  • Evaluating and Selecting Sources
  • Fact-Check: Understanding Misinformation and Disinformation
  • Citing Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism