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A Guide to the Research Process

Research Process and Strategy - A Brief Buide

The best strategy for your research is to work from the most general information to the most specific. This helps prevent researchers from overlooking important details. So our guides are largely organized along those lines.


infographic: the research process as described below

click image to enlarge

The process we describe here is a rough outline of 5 steps, and while your process is likely to bounce between steps as you turn up information that alters the direction of your research, hitting each of these steps will help make your process as efficient as it can be.
1. Topic - A need for information, a question, or a curiosity.

Start broadly and narrow as you go. When we start with a specific thesis, it is possible to zoom in on information that agrees with that thesis and ignore information that contradicts it. So it is usually better to think of a what-if question or maybe to look hard at a gap in information you may have noticed.

2. Clarify your question with reference sources

Broad resources like the ones you'll see on the Research Starter or Books pages place your topic in the context of the broader discipline that you study, reveal useful search terms, and - best of all - stimulate questions that inspire your writing.

3. Find materials that discuss your topic

Scholarly resources provide verifiable, solid information to inform and support your argument. It is probably best to compile more information than you think you'll need, because some of what you pick up will turn out to be less relevant than you hoped. You'll find these types of resources on the Books and the Articles pages.

Don't forget to grab the citations for the information you've found. It saves time and energy later.

If you can't seem to find enough material, it may be time to back up to step 1 (broaden your topic), 2 (consider why your topic is important to your discipline), or 3 (keep searching).

4. Read & evaluate what you've found

While you're reading, be sure to highlight, copy-and-paste, or otherwise compile the most pertinent information as relates to to your topic. In other words, pull out support material to build your argument. It's probably best to compile all this info in a fresh document because it sets up the next step and makes it easier.

Don't forget to note the sources alongside the points in this document because it saves time and energy during the documentation step (not pictured) later.

Are your sources solid? If not, return to step 3.

5. Organize & Write

If you've followed along so far, you should have a sandbox document full of paraphrases and direct quotes. Now it is time to sort those (already cited) facts & quotes into an argument or outline to guide and shape your writing. Sometimes a computer document is too big and messy. If so, try printing out your mess, cutting out the individual points, and spreading them out on a table.

Anyway, once you've arranged these points in a progression that makes sense to you, all that's left to do is to connect the dots with your own words.

6. Document your sources

Okay almost all that's left to do. This part seems difficult when you first start doing it. First, go through your paper and make sure that every item of information cites an item on your references/works cited/bibliography page. Then, go through your citation list and make sure that only sources that wound up in your final draft are listed there. Then double-check that your citations are in the correct format. You'll find help with that on the citations tab, far right.

Bam. You're done.

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