You’ve been given an assignment to write a research paper. You may be asking yourself right now, “How do I begin researching?” Let’s follow these four basic steps:
♠ Ask the 5WH
♣ Perform preliminary research
♥ Formulate a research question
♦ Write a working thesis statement
Tip: Think of these four steps as your four “suits” of research, just like a deck of cards has four suits.
♠ Ask the 5WH
Just as a journalist does when writing an article, you must also figure out the 5WH of your research topic. Look at your assignment sheet, and identify the following areas about your topic:
For example, if you are researching the effects of media on teenagers, you may want to ask these kinds of questions:
- What companies target teens?
- How do companies target teens (strategies)?
- Why do teen buy certain products?
- Where I can buy items exclusively for teens?
♣ Perform Preliminary Research
Find out where the controversies are on your topic: what is everyone talking about but no one has figured out? What is nobody talking about that they should be talking about?
- Perform a Google search
- Ask an expert (Could be a family member, friend, or professor. If you have a specific question, you can try e-mailing a professional expert in the field).
- Consult a dictionary or encyclopedia
- Identify useful sources for your topic: start with the Montgomery College Libraries Research Guides
♥ Formulate a Research Question
Now that you know a little more about your topic, what is confusing or what do you still want to know more about?
- Ask a specific question: For example, “How do clothing advertisers target teen girls?” The shorter the paper, the more narrow the question should be.
- Ask a question that has not already been answered. For example, “Does marketing affect how women view their bodies?” Much research has already shown that the answer is yes. But you can ask how or why.
- Ask a question that other people will want to know the answer to. For example, “How does the marketing industry artificially inflate prices?” If you have a more academic or technical topic, it may not be of interest to everyone, but it should be of interest to people in your field.
Research Question: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
♦ Write a Working Thesis Statement
Now it’s time to answer your question—even though you don’t have all the answers yet.
- Make a prediction or an educated guess. You don’t know for sure, but based on what you do know, you could say, “Clothing stores like Banana Republic market attractiveness and popularity to teen girls.”
- Be specific. For example, “Marketing for hair products and makeup suggests that the most desirable version of femininity includes long, shiny hair and flawless skin.”
- Make sure you write a statement, not a question.
- Be aware that you may need to change your thesis based on what you learn during the research process.
Working Thesis Statement:
Once you’ve completed these four steps, you are ready to begin researching. Here are some guidelines to think about as you perform your research:
- Consider various sources. Don’t just do a Google search to see what results you get from typing “media negatively impacts teenagers.” Look in newspapers, magazines, blogs, books, movies, advertisements (in print and online), or tune into radio and TV shows.
- Use the library. The library has various search engines you can utilize in order to find credible information.
- Talk to a librarian.
- Organize your research. Different methods work for different people. You may want to keep a binder with printouts of all your research. Perhaps you could make a folder on your computer with all the research inside. You could even create subfolders that deal with different aspects of your research. As you read, you can highlight passages that may be useful to quote in your paper. Type up a list of possible quotes to use, and save it in your research folder. The possibilities are endless!
- Keep a Works Cited list or bibliography of your sources. See the Writing Center or Libraries for handouts on MLA and APA citation.
- Make sure you put information from sources in quotes, whether it is a website, book, or something an expert said.
- Keep copies of your research so you can go back and check that your quotes and citations are accurate.
- Evaluate your sources. Don’t accept that anything you read is true. Make sure you know that the source has credentials in your field. Check that information from different sources match. Make sure you are using the most current information, from a trusted source.
- Use the CRAAP test.
Additional information on this topic can be found in the library’s Information Literacy webpage.
To see a Prezi that goes with this workshop, click here.