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How to Start the Research Process

A guide for starting the research paper and project process.

Picking a Topic

Choose a subject that is of interest to you--it makes the research process more enjoyable and fun. 

What if my instructor already gave me a topic...

If your instructor provided a list of possible topics, you may still need to find a focus within the broader topic. See the Refine Your Topic page for help.

Focusing In

After choosing a topic, it's time to develop a research question or thesis statement.

This is an important step because it will help direct your research by focusing on a specific position or point-of-view.

As the name implies, a research question will end with a question mark. For example, on the topic of “hospital infections,” an appropriate research question could be “Does hand washing among health care workers reduce hospital-acquired infections?"

During the course of your research, you will try to answer your research question with the information you find from a variety of credible sources. To create a strong research question, remember to keep it...

  • Open-Ended: Your research questions should be open to ensure that you explore credible, academic resources in order to provide a sufficient answer.
  • Simple: When you develop your thesis statement, you can add some complexity to your research. At this stage, try to make your research question as simple as possible. You will be learning more about your topic over time and can adapt your research question as you go.
    • Too complicated: How does childhood obesity correlate with academic performance in elementary school children?
    • Simplified: What are the effects of childhood obesity in the United States?