Research Process

Defining Research

What is Research?

Research compiles information obtained from a variety of sources to support a thesis. There are two types of research: primary and secondary. Primary research presents original thinking, testing, and conclusions about the facts and opinions on a thesis. Secondary research is a factual presentation of other people's findings to support a thesis. Most research at the high school level will consist of secondary research.

Report paper vs. Reasearch paper

A report paper is a paraphrasing of mere facts from one or more sources. Examples of reports are newspaper accounts of an event, summaries of incidents (recount the events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic), biographical information (summarize the major events in the life of George Washington), instructions and demonstrations (playing a game, installing an electrical outlet), fact finding (naming the planets in the solar system), or descriptions of people, places and things (describe the climate of Puerto Rico).

A research paper is a more sophisticated piece of writing that requires more thoughtful inquiry and critical thinking skills than a report. Facts and/or opinions are gathered from reliable sources to support a focused topic or inquiry. Guiding questions or a thesis statement will direct the research. The finished paper will be a presentation of the writer's (your) thoughts on the topic backed by facts gathered during the research process. A research paper involves investigating, thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and presenting your conclusions about the topic.

Click here for the Purdue Owl: Research papers!

Choosing a Topic

Purdue Owl: Choosing a Topic
Sometimes a teacher will supply a list of topics for you to select one. Sometimes the choice of a topic is up to you with some guidelines, such as, being related to class work, curriculum, discussions, assignment, etc., with the teacher's approval. This can be a blessing or a curse. Because you have such a variety of choices, it can be difficult to find a topic.

Would you like to learn more about something?Is something happening in your life, someone else's?

Suggesstions for Topics
Textbook Class discussion
Newspapers Magazines
Hobbies & Interests News broadcasts
What's going on at home? Anything happening to friends and relations?
Scan titles on library shelves - Open some interesting books and look at the table of contents Sirs Researcher - Try the subject searches and scan some topics and subtopics
Scan book titles using OPAC - Look at the subjects and summaries. Sirs Government Reporter - Try a Subject Tree Search. Open interesting categories and scan topics and subtopics
ProQuest and EBSCOhost- Put in some topics or keywords in the search box and look over some articles. Gales Opposing Viewpoints - See "Browse Issues"
Encyclopedia - Try a topic and scan the related articles, subtopics and pictures Any database - See the "Topics, Issues, People" headings in the Menu bars

Whatever you decide, the topic must qualify for the assignment. Check the assignment.

The topic should be interesting to you, even if the interest must be "created." How can interest be "created"? Some sources recommend that the student spend 10-15 minutes in a free-write session where he lists everything he knows about the topic. Then these lists are shared with fellow students. The other students add information, challenge the information, and ask questions. The discussion and questions usually develop a need to know, confirm, etc. This "need to know" develops a research quest and focus.

If this or other techniques cannot be done in class due to time restraints, the student should try it on his own with family and friends. Remember - If there is no interest, there is impossible research.

  • Stripling, Barbara, and Judy M. Pitts. Brainstorms and Blueprints: Teaching Library Research as a Thinking Process. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1988.
  • Passaic County Technical Institute: A Research Handbook, n.d.
  • Purdue OWL: Choosing a Topic

Topic Overview

An overview is a broad picture or summary of the topic. Students must have an understanding of what the topic is, and what is related to the topic. An overview will answer the questions: What? Who? Where? When? Why? How?

What will help me get an overview of a topic?

Resources that define and give basic and related information to the topic will help. General encyclopedias, subject encyclopedias, magazine articles that define and introduce background information, books, textbooks, and class discussions may be useful. Develop a list of subject headings or keywords to guide a search for information about the topic. This list should include the topic keywords, synonyms for the topic (how else can I say this?), narrower terms, broader terms, and related terms. Try to develop a list of at least 10 of these keywords for your topic,

Choose resources depending on the topic and needs. General encyclopedias are excellent for basic and concise information about famous people, places, and things. They are useful for comprehensive overviews of historical periods and issues. Subject encyclopedias give more detail in a particular area (for example, a health encyclopedia). Magazines focus on current issues. Books can define and give comprehensive information, opinions and related circumstances.

Read widely for an overview. Use the table of contents in a book for keywords and search terms. Skim though book chapters and/or magazine articles. When using a magazine or newspaper database, scan the article titles that come up when you enter a keyword search. When using OPAC, look at the subjects and summaries of the books in your results list.

Narrow the Topic

Narrow topics are easier to research than board topics:
  • Students can focus on specific information and locate it efficiently
  • Students cre not overwhelmed by too much much information
  • With less material to read, students can better evaluate the information found.
  • Narrow topics help students discover interesting details instead of trying to summarize huge amounts of information
In the table above "Suggestions for Topics," many of the sources will help the student develop a narrow topic from a broad topic. For example, a book titled The Family will have chapters about single-parent families, teenage parenting, adoption, step-children and step-parents and divorce, the deterioration of the extended family in today's society, gay parents, foster care, working parents in the family, and so on.

Reflection step: The researcher should ask before continuing:
  • Will I find enough information on this topic?
  • Will the information be too difficult to use?
  • Is the topic too board? Too narrow? Too subjective? Too unfamiliar? Too difficult?
  • Should I modify my topic?

Following the first three steps of the research process will lead the researcher into the next phase - The Thesis Statement.

Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a statement of the main idea you want to present about the subject or topic.

For example:


Teenage Suicide

Thesis Statement:

Current programs to prevent teenage suicide are ineffective because they focus on crisis intervention rather than long-term stress management.
A thesis statement states what you want to say about the topic. The thesis statement focuses and guides the research. The research investigation will document information to support the thesis statement.
A thesis statement is not a simple fact that needs no support; nor is it a personal opinion based on one’s emotion without reason.

Thesis Statements:

  • The development of the airplane contributed to the "shrinking world" phenomenon.
  • German propaganda during World War II was effective in creating popular support for Hitler and his policies.
  • The concept of “teenagers” developed in the 1950s due to increasing economic independence.
  • Youth farms may be an effective practice in rehabilitating juvenile perpetrators in the criminal justice system.

Simple Facts:
  • Che Guevara, the Cuban guerilla fighter, was reportedly killed on October 8, 1967.
  • The first major automobile race went from Paris to Marseilles.
  • Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.

Sites offering more information and tutorials, please see the WEBSITES - Research Process and Style Manuals Try Tom March’s website “Thesis Builder and Online Outliner”. This site will help create a thesis statement using the information that you submit and then suggest and outline for your paper.

Statement of Purpose:
A statement of purpose can help a student develop a thesis statement. It simply states what the student wants to do about the topic. “I plan to (research, investigate, show, explain, etc.) about the topic. The statement of purpose generates questions to guide the research. (What do I need to do to accomplish this purpose?)

Statement of Purpose: I plan to research the statistics and causes of teenage suicide and describe possible solutions. Questions to Guide Research:
  1. Overview information/Statistics/Definitions What are the important suicide statistics?
  2. Background/Causes/Reasons What causes teenagers to commit suicide?
  3. Effects/Solutions/Recommended Changes What could be done to prevent teenage suicide?
Thesis Statement: Current programs to prevent teenage suicide are ineffective because they focus on crisis intervention rather than long-term stress management.
(Source: Stripling, Barbara K. Brainstorms and Blueprints: Teaching Library Research as a Thinking Process. Englewood Co.: Libraries unlimited, 1988.)

Evaluate Sources

Because anyone can create a web page, it is important to try to determine if the information that is presented is true or not. Below is a table that may help you determine the validity of a web page. For more information try: Evaluating Websites by UC Berkeley, Teaching Zack to Think, and research and style sites posted on the Website page of this site.

Analyzing Web Resources
Are sources listed for facts?
Can information be verified through another source?
Has the site been edited for grammar, spelling, etc.?
Is the publisher reputable?
Is the sponsorship clear?
Is there a phone number or postal address?
Is there a link to the sponsoring organization?
Is the author qualified to write on this topic?
Does the sponsor have commercial interests?
Is advertising included on the page?
Are there obvious biases?
Is there a publication date listed?
Is there a date listed for the last update?
Is it a topic that does not change frequently?
Are the topics covered in depth?
Does the content appear to be complete?

The Internet and Instruction. c1998 Libraries Unlimited. (800)237-6124

Searching the Web

Subject Directories:

Subject directories are catalogs that organize topics by categories for people who want to browse a list, such as, Arts and Humanities, Business, Education, Health, Reference, etc., usually found on the opening web page of internet service providers and search engine sites.

Search Engines:

Search engines use software programs to index thousands of web sites by the keyword(s) that one types in a search box. To access a search engine, click on the search button of your browser, or go to a particular search engine by typing its URL.

There are many search engines. Try:

Freeality Internet Search
Google Search

Metasearch Engines:

A metasearch engine submits your search to several search engines or directories at one time. Some metasearch engines can be found in the two sites listed above.

Search Engine Techniques:

Use quotation marks around a specific phrase: "physical fitness"

Add a + sign before each word for both words to be in the same site: +chemistry +experiments.

Add a hyphen to exclude sites with this word: +probability -gambling.

Asterisks and question marks can be used for truncation and wildcards in some search engines (see specific help instructions): Mexic* for Mexico, Mexican, etc.; t??m for team, teem.

(The Internet and Instruction. c1998 Libraries Unlimited, p.49)

Source Cards

What to Write

Author(s). If no author, start with title
Title (including subtitle)
Editor(s). These are the chief editors responsible for the work, not the entire department.
Edition (for example: 4th ed., 2nd ed., 3rd ed., Abridged, Unabridged, Revised, Large print)

Place published:

City of publication
If the place is missing, write N.p. which stands for No place in the appropriate place [Capital N]


Abbreviate publishers: leave out articles, business abbreviations, and descriptive words, such as, House, Press, Books, Publisher, & Sons, Inc., Co, Ltd., The, A, An

· Use only the last name for a company named for one person (Write Knopf instead of Alfred E. Knopf, Inc.)

· Use only the first name for a company named for more than one person (Write Holt instead of Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.)

· Use U and P for University and Press ( Write U. of Illinois P. instead of University of Illinois Press)

· if missing, write n.p. which stands for no publisher in the appropriate place [lower case n]
Date published (if missing, write n.d. which stands for no date in the appropriate place [lower case n] )
Page numbers (if page numbers are not written, write N. pag. in the appropriate place [Capital N] )

What to Write for Those Spcial Sources:

Anthologies - Chapter author, chapter title, editor (s), place of publication, publisher, date, page(s). -- See below for format.
General Encyclopedia - Article Author(s). "Article Title." Encyclopedia Title. Edition year.
Reference Books- Article author(s), article title, book title, volume number, place of publication, publisher, date, page(s) -- See below for formats.
Magazines - Author. "Article Title." Magazine Title [day, if given] month year: page number(s).
Academic Journals - Author. "Article title." Journal Title volume. issue (date): pages.
Newspapers- Author. "Article Title." Newspaper Title [City, if not in title], day month year, edition if given: section and page information
Art, CD-ROMs, Audiovisual Sources, Interviews, Performances, Speeches - See NONPRINT SOURCES
Web sites, Online databases, Online periodicals, E-Books, Email, Web postings, E-interviews - See ONLINE SOURCES

HOW TO WRITE - see WORKS CITED PAGE and examples

Instead of footnotes or endnotes, the author's last name is placed in parentheses within the body of the text. To cite the article above: (Schneider). If there are two or more works by the same author in the works cited list, add a shortened version of the title: (Schneider, "The Dust Settles").
Instead of footnotes or endnotes, a shortened version of the title is placed in parentheses within the body of the text. To cite the article above: ("Prehistory").
Instead of footnotes or endnotes, the author's last name is placed in parentheses within the body of the text. To cite the document above: (Meadows). If there are two or more works by the same author in the works cited list, add a shortened version of the title: (Meadows, "Saving Your Sight").

Note Cards

Information should be recorded on Note Cards. Note Cards should contain the following:

  1. A label on top that identifies the information about the topic contained on the card. The label relates to the subtopic or category of the topic. Only one sub-topic per note card
  2. Information from the source. Use keywords and phrases, clauses, or direct quotations and mark accordingly. All information should pertain to the subtopic (label) on top of the card. Use of keywords and phrases help to avoid plagiarism.
  3. Page numbers of the sources for the information on the card.
  4. Source information. (Hint: Assign a number to each source on your source cards and use this number on your note card to quickly identify the source – See example card.)


Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. Please see Developing an Outline by Purdue OWL.

Four main components of effective outlines and how to compose them.

See a Sample Outline.

Try Tom March’s website “Thesis Builder and Online Outliner”. This site will help create a thesis statement using the information that you submit and then suggest and outline for your paper.

Works Cited

The Works Cited Page is a record of all the print and non-print sources used in writing the paper.

Citation samples are based on MLA style to be used by Passaic County Technical Institute students submitting research assignments for PCTI classes only. Non-PCTI visitors to this site should follow the requirements of their instructors.

Page Format

Type the words "Works Cited" (minus quotation marks) centered on the top line of the page.

The entire page is double-spaced.

Entries are arranged alphabetically by the author's last name. If there is no author for the source, use the first word of the title, and alphabetize this accordingly in the list of works cited. If the first word in the title is "A," "An," or "The," alphabetize by the second word.

Use the reverse indention (hanging indention) system. (Author's last name typed next to the left margin, and all other lines of the entry are indented 5 spaces from the margin.)

Italics may be substituted for underlining. (World Book is the same as World Book.)

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