Research Skills for English 1A

Unit 1: What is Research?
The Research Process


This unit explores the concept of research. You will define the term “research” for yourself. Next, you’ll examine several models of the research process and borrow from these models to create one that describes your own research process.

What Is Research?

To start, let’s compare the word “report” and “research.”

When you write a report, you locate information on a topic and summarize it.  That’s generally it. Technically, a report does not ask you to analyze, compare, or synthesize information. It does not require you to locate facts to support an argument.

Research, on the other hand, means to investigate.. Research involves posing an original question, looking at something from all angles, studying it carefully, and examining it deeply.


Listen to what these Northwestern University students have to say about research:

Assignment 1:

In the discussion thread labeled “What Is Research,” identify one or two responses from the Northwestern students that you found meaningful. Write a few sentences explaining why you found those responses meaningful.


Rate Yourself As a Researcher

Note: Create a Google Form for this. Students submit to the form. Place the form in iLearn.

Think about the skills you have to complete research. Rate yourself using the following scale:

1 = I know nothing about this

2 = I am a beginner at this

3 = I can do this, but I still have a lot to learn about doing this well.

4 = I am an expert at this

Part I: What I Know/What I Want to Find Out


I can describe the research process from start to finish.



I use a variety of strategies and resources to explore a topic and define my research question.



I develop a main research question and several subordinate questions to guide my research.



I develop keyword and key phrase lists to help me in my search.



I develop a research plan (i.e., what I’m going to do first, etc., what questions are most important to answer, how much time to spend on each part of the project, etc.)



I know which questions can be best answered by what kinds of resources.



I know the difference between primary and secondary sources.



I know the kinds of questions to ask about a primary source when I’m using it.



I use the library catalog to locate books in the college and public libraries.



I know how to narrow or broaden my search using the library catalog.



I know how to narrow or broaden my search using a search engine.



I know how to narrow or broaden my search using the college's online databases.


I know the difference between subject and keyword searching and know when to use these when searching the college's online databases.  
When I use a web page for research, I first evaluate it for authority, bias, accuracy and currency.



I use online databases from the college to conduct research.



I use my questions as a guide when I’m researching.



I skim and scan text for answers to my questions and paraphrase key points in the text effectively.



I have a system for organizing the notes that I take and for keeping track of which sources those notes are from.



I organize my notes so that I can use a variety of sources to support my ideas.



I use in-text citations according to MLA or APA requirements and the given assignment.



I can complete a Works Cited or References bibliography page following the correct APA or MLA format.



I can format my paper according to APA or MLA format as required by an instructor.



Based on your own scores, what do you need to work on as a researcher?

Research Process Models

We know from decades of studies that when people do research, they follow a process with some predictable stages. There are many models of this process. Here are three. As you read, think about what these models have in common.

The Search Process

Step 1: Choosing a Topic and Asking Questions
Define your research problem, explore topics, do some background building, and create questions to guide your research.

Step 2: Identifying resources
Figure out what resources you’ll need to best answer your questions and solve your research problem. These might include people, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, websites, and any other source of information.

Step 3: Planning your search
Narrow or broaden your topic, create subject and keyword lists to search, prioritize your questions, create interview questions, schedule interviews, and organize your search time.

Step 4: Hunting and Gathering
Gather all the information you think you’ll need. Use all your locating skills, including skimming and scanning, using indexes and tables of contents, checking for gaps in information, and recording bibliographic information.

Step 5: Sifting and Organizing
Decide what to keep, what to leave out, how to record the information, how to organize your notes into useful parts. Figure out what are the best sources available. Decide which sources are reliable and credible. Verify facts and sources.

Step 6: Making It Your Own
Once you’ve gathered lots of information about your topic, you’ll still need to make it your own by adding your own thinking to it. You might analyze, interpret, compare, or view facts from another perspective. You may use facts from a variety of sources to create a completely new argument or solve a problem in an original way.

Step 7: Communicating Your Findings
This stage involves all the issues in sharing what you’ve learned with your audience. This includes deciding on a format (paper, web page, PowerPoint presentation, video, etc.); identifying the audience; choosing the tone and style of communication; proofreading, editing, and revising; citing your sources; and preparing a bibliography.

Step 8: Looking Back on What You Learned and How You Learned
This stage involves thinking about the content you learned and the process you went through to do your research. Your teacher may ask you to do some reflecting throughout a project. You may be asked to evaluate yourself against a rubric, keep a log or journal about your progress, describe the search process you use, and to honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses as a researcher.


Research Process Model (Stripling & Pitts)

This model breaks the process into more steps:

Step 1: Choose a broad topic.

Step 2:Get an overview of the topic.

Step 3:Narrow the topic.
Reflection Point: Is my topic a good one?

Step 4: Develop a thesis or statement of purpose.
Reflection Point: Does my thesis of statement of putpose represent an effective, overall concept for my research?

Step 5: Formulate questions to guide research.
Reflection Point: Do the questions provide a foundation for my research?

Step 6: Plan for research and production.
Reflection Point: Is the research / production plan workable?

Step 7: Find / Analyze / Evaluate sources.
Reflection Point: Are my sources usable and adequate?

Step 8: Evaluate evidence / Take notes / Compile bibliography.
Reflection Point: Is my research complete?

Step 9: Establish conclusions / Organize information into an outline.
Reflection Point: Are my conclusions based on researched evidence?
Does my outline logically organize conclusions and evidence?

Step 10: Create and present final product.
Reflection Point: Is my paper / project satisfactory?

Information Search Process Model (C. Khulthau)

This model is unique in that it incorporates the development of thoughts about a research topic and the feelings associated with the search process.

Information Search Process

Here's another way to look at the same model. Do you recognize exeriencing similar feelings as you go through the research process?

Kuhlthau's Information Search Process Model



Charting Your Own Research Process

A few important points about the Research Process:

  • Each person's research process is unique, and you might go through a slightly different process each time you research.

  • This process does not follow a straight line. You might consider a topic, gather some information, and based on that information, change your topic. You might discover information along the way that causes you to go back and search in a different way.

Assignment 3

Think about major research project you have completed. Create a diagram of the process you normally follow. Use ideas from the research process models above to show your understanding of the research process. You can use a computer or web tool, or you can hand draw this.

Use your own language to describe each stage you go through. Combine elements from the models above to create one of your own that best describes the process you go through. Feel free to include feelings you think you might experience at each stage, as Kuhlthau's model does.

Here is a sample diagram (click on diagram for larger version):

My Search Process


Remember, you can do this with a computer or you can draw it by hand. The goal is to create what you think is an accurate model of your own research process, including what happens at each step.

If you draw it, you can scan it or take a photo of it and send it to me that way.

Assignment 4:

I will post all the research process diagrams after the assignment is due. Find one you especially like (other than your own) and write several sentences about why you like it. Post your response to the "Research Process Discussion Thread."


When you're finished with your research process model, submit it and take the quiz for this unit.

Last Updated January 9, 2014