Research Strategies

A research strategy is a plan of action gives direction to your efforts, enabling you to conduct your research systematically. Having a plan will help you stay focused, reduce frustration, and save you time in the long run.

Start early! Don't procrastinate! Quality research takes time. Good research is a thorough investigation into a subject in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.

Step 1: Choose a Topic

Be sure you understand the assignment before you begin. If you have doubts, be sure to discuss your ideas with your instructor to confirm you are on target with the expectations of the assignment.

Choose a topic of interest to you - If you are having a hard time choosing a topic you can find suggestions in a variety of resources.

Step 2: Define and develop your topic statement

Determine the purpose and focus of your research and develop a topic statement. Try to write one or two full sentences describing the purpose of your research. For example:

Topic: drug abuse and high school athletes

Initial topic statement: "Why has drug abuse increased in high school athletes?"

Final topic statement: "The changes in high school athletic programs, influence of professional athletes, and performance pressures all contribute to the increase in drug abuse and use of performance-enhancing drugs among high school athletes."

Next, you need to identify the keywords or concepts that describe your topic. Write down essential vocabulary words and concepts. For example, the keywords identified from the above topic statement are:

Keywords: performance- enhancing drugs, high school athletes, high school athletics, professional sports, professional athletes, drug abuse, teens

Choosing Keywords

Choosing Keywords - Print Version


Step 3: Get background information

Search the keywords identified from your topic statement to find information on your topic.

  • Encyclopedias are a great place to start to gather background information about a topic that is new to you.
  • Work from general to the specific. If an encyclopedia doesn't provide a sufficient overview try additional resources such as:
    • Specialized dictionaries
    • Subject specific encyclopedias
    • Textbooks
    • Handbooks
    • Bibliographies


Step 4: Broaden or Narrow your Topic

Based on the type and breadth of information you find, you may need to broaden or narrow your topic.

Find too little? Broaden

  • Search related words or synonyms, for example: athletics = sports
  • Search keywords in different combinations, for example: teen athletes, high school sports, drug abuse, high school athletics, professional sports
  • Check book or article bibliographies or footnotes for additional sources on your topic

Find too much? Narrow

  • Qualify the topic by date, by region, or by another aspect of your topic.
  • For example: drug use by male teen athletes in the United States
  • Check other sources for specific aspects of your topic.

Step 5: Find Sources

Use the library's online catalog to find books, videos, and other items available through the library.

Use the library's subscription databases to find journal articles, audio files and images. The library has many databases, each one covering different subject areas.

Tips for finding sources:

  • Pursue any useful footnotes, references, subject headings and keywords you find along the way. A good bibliography will suggest additional sources.
  • Conducting a search using the subject headings and keywords from one helpful item may lead you to others.
  • Search for other works written by the same author(s). Scholars often become experts in a field and continue publishing on that topic.
  • Browse the book shelves nearby for related works as you gather your information. You may find materials that your systematic searches may have missed.

Evaluate your source material at every point during the research process. Make sure that it adequately addresses your topic.


Make sure you have the publication information!

When you find useful information resources, be sure to record the publication information.

  • Title
  • Author
  • Year published
  • Publisher
  • Pagination (if citing an article)
  • URL
  • Database
  • Date accessed

You must have this information in order to prepare your bibliography.

For more about citing electronic and traditional information resources, see the Citation Guides.


Stay focused and use critical thinking to judge the quality, quantity and appropriateness of information. Don't stress out. If you get lost in information overload, ask a reference librarian to help you out.

Stay on Topic:
Ask yourself, "Does my research connect logically with my topic and fulfill the requirements of the assignment? Does the information I'm finding match my focus?"
Quantity of Information:
Keep the final product length in mind while investigating your topic. The amount of material needed for a five-minute speech or a three-page paper is obviously much less than for a fifteen-page document.
Appropriateness of Information:
Determine the intended audience for your work and gather material written for that audience. Ask for every source, "Is it too simplistic, too advanced, too technical, or just right for my topic?"
Synthesize Your Information:
Get organized in order to synthesize and integrate the information you've gathered into your own intellectual product.
Evaluate Your Work:
After completing your synthesized project, evaluate your successes and difficulties. Identify procedures you might change or improve, because without a doubt, you'll need to do more research throughout your school career.