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The Research Process

This guide walks through some research strategies and points to resources, tools, and people that can help.

In This Section

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Research as Inquiry, Scholarship as Conversation

What are you curious about?

  • What do you still have questions about?
  • This might seem obvious, but your topic should interest you!

How can you contribute to the conversation?

  • Are there gaps in existing research?
  • Can you approach a topic from a new angle or perspective?


Picking a topic is research, too!

This video (3 minutes) describes the process of choosing and testing out a topic. See more tips below the video, too!

Video posted on YouTube by North Carolina State University Libraries under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license.

Do Some Background Reading

Reference sources are a great place to start when you're trying to choose or narrow a topic.

They'll help you learn the language of the topic you're interested in, and help you gather:

  • basic facts or established information on your topic
  • key concepts, terms, and people 
  • related topics, and more places to search


Try these general reference sources to get started, and check out our Research Guides for subject-specific reference works.

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A reference source summarizes facts and concepts on a topic and provides useful background information. Reference sources include dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Brainstorm Keywords

Use some basic questions to help you brainstorm keywords, or search terms, for your topic.

  • Who is involved? Who is affected?
  • Are there key figures related to your topic?
  • What are the key issues and questions surrounding your topic?
  • Are there key dates associated with your topic? When did major events related to your topic happen? 
  • Are you focused on a particular period of history?
  • Is there a geographic location that is important to your topic? 
  • Can you focus your topic on a particular location?
  • How will you find out about your topic? Do you need primary sources?
  • Is there a particular methodology associated with the kind of research you'll be doing?
  • Why are you interested in your topic? Why should others be interested?

When you have a list of keywords, take a second pass through it and try to come up with synonyms or related terms.

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