the research process

palais franc.

introduction: what this is and what it is for

to the teacher

this is a basic library and information literacy tutorial. it is modelled very generally after the typical one-shot instruction session most students experience in higher education classes that include a research component or assignment.

this tutorial is organized in seven chapters, covering each step in the research process as defined here. this division in chapters allows the teacher to deliver any material they consider relevant or necessary.

it is designed to be taught remotely, in person, synchronously and asynchronously, both with guided assistance and self-taught. it can be taught online and offline if saved locally. it is done using html, javascript, and css. there is no need for huge libraries or dependencies. it is not platform-specific and it does not require special software or hardware other than a typical smart device and a modern browser to run. it is made to run on most devices, including most smart phones. at its barebones, it retains its functionality.

this tutorial is marked up in such a way that is accessible to screen readers and other devices and tools, according to w3c standards.

this work is licensed under the mit license. if you are a librarian and/or teacher, and are familiar with open educational resources and creative commons licenses, this license is like a creative commons cc-by, but more badass. you can take this piece of code i find useful and change it, copy it, paste it, add to it, strip it, decorate it, ridicule it, publish it, make fun of it, name it, sell it (ha!), call it your own, and pretty much anything else except buy it. you can get this code from github.

if you have any questions, you can contact me at

to the student.

this is a basic library research tutorial. by the end of it, you sould be able to conduct basic academic research for your term paper, essay, speech, presentation, or any other project that requires you to do quality academic research.

the tutorial consists of seven chapters, plus appendices on relevant topics.

each chapter is divided as follows:

depending on your needs as a class, you will go over one or more chapters. however, a basic understanding of the whole class will prove very useful.

let's go.

chapter 0: the research process

objective: the student will identify the research process as well as its steps.

vocabulary1: research, process.

grown fat.

writing an essay, composing a speech, or putting together a presentation can all be thought of as processes.

the research process, as the name indicates, is the process of doing research.

when it comes to library research, the research process consists of the following steps:

these steps are part of a process. processes are most effective when youn follow the steps in a logical manner, as above.

conclusion: many class assignments require students to do library research. the research process makes library research more efficient.


discuss or think about the role the research process has in critical thinking2.

identify the step in the research process at which you are right now in your project.

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

chapter 1: getting to know your project

objective: the student will describe their assignment using the specifications given by the professor.

vocabulary: citation style, persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive.

sitting editorial armchair.

the first step in the research process is to detemine the projects's specifications and expectations.

familiarize yourself with the project before getting to work on it. clarify expectations.

things you should know about your project.

there is a lot more to your project than merely what is going to be about and how long it should be.

focus on critical thinking, length is secondary.

conclusion: It is a good idea to know the class assignment before beginning research.


look up types of essays and learn what a narrative essay, a descriptive essay, an expository essay, and a persuasive essay are. which one describes best your essay or presentation?

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

Chapter 2: subject, topic and keywords

objective: the student will derive a topic of adequate scope, given an umbrella subject, and derive appropriate keywords to begin research using the method described below.

vocabulary: subject, topic, keyword, scope, reliable.

kiss me once.

the next step in the research process is to establish a topic from a given, general subject, and develop keywords.

first, determine the general subject of your project. talk to your professor.

scope. too narrow, specific? not enough information, results in wasted time doing difficult research.
too broad, vague? too much information, results in generic, boring papers in which no one learned anything.

narrow and define your topic4

to help you narrow and define your project down to an adequate topic, first phrase it as a (research) question.

    then ask yourself:

  • how much you do know about the topic.
  • how much you don't know about the topic.
  • if what you know about the topic is reliable.

finally, pick a topic you are curious about or find interesting.

conclusion: narrowing a project’s scope to an adequate topic can be the hardest part of research. make sure you spend enough time working on it.


take a subject and come up with a research question, then note what you know and don't know about the subject, and determine if what you know came from a reliable source.

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

chapter 3: finding background information

objective: the student will learn how to use dictionaries, encyclopedias, and reliable online reference resources to obtain basic facts and the proper vocabulary.

vocabulary: reference, encyclopedia, dictionary, source.

soldier barrel.

once you have a topic to research, the next step is to find background information to help you get started.

by background information, we mean the basic, essential, general information and core concepts.

in addition to general information about your topic, you will want to learn the specific teminology, key words, and special vocabulary.

Use encyclopedias, dictionaries, and wikipedia, to find background information.

yes, use wikipedia, just don't tell anyone you did.

wikipedia is a great place to begin research, as long as you keep in mind that wikipedia is a place, not a source. we don’t cite places, we cite sources. use wikipedia’s reference list to find the source, and cite the source.

none of your statements should ever begin with "according to wikipedia,..." or "wikipedia says...". if you find yourself doing this, stop.

become familiar with the core concepts, special vocabulary, and maybe relevant people in your subject or topic.

ask your instructor or librarian where you can find encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference materials fit for your project's topic.

conclusion: encyclopedias, dictionaries, and wikipedia are excellent sources to begin your research by finding background information and specific keywords/terms.


practice finding the list of references for wikipedia pages of your choice. make sure you can trace information back to the source and there is actually a source (404’s, broken links).

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

chapter 4: using library resources to find quality information

objective: the student will learn how to use the library catalog and library databases.

vocabulary: library catalog, monograph, article, journal, database, abstract.


searching for books in the libray catalog

encyclopedias, dictionaries, and wikipedia provide you with background information to begin research, introduce you to the topic, and allow you to discover useful keywords and key terms.

however, this information is usually not enough. for more substantial information, we need to use the resources found in your library.

your college (or public5) library is the place where you will find books using the library catalog, and academic journal articles using the library’s electronic databases.

books are the best choice when looking for in-depth information about a topic. books usually talk about one thing for a very long time.

when looking for books, start with a broad subject.

books are found in the library using the library catalog.

note: the instructions below and the rest of this chapter references a very specific library. If you are a student other than a mhcc student, the way you access and use your own library catalog and databases might be a bit different, but not by much, since the logic is the same. ask a librarian if you have any questions. They will be more than happy to help you.

four rabbits.

to find books in the library catalog:

  • locate the library catalog's search field
  • type your keyword(s) and click search

search will take you to the library catalog proper, a list of the items in the library matching the keywords you provided.

observe that you will find, in addition to books in print, ebooks, streaming video, dvd, even some journal articles. however, you will use the library catalog when you are looking for books and ebooks for the most part.

if you are looking for ebooks, select ebooks under resource type. likewise for print books, or any other format available.

click on the title of the book of your choice. notice the detailed information about the book, its location in the library, and other useful tools.

as you inspect the book, first notice title, author, publication date, and summary.

then look at the book’s availability: here you can find out if the book is in the library and where in the shelves it’s located. if it’s an ebook, accessing it and reading it is usually just a matter of following links.

lastly, notice the tools field. here you will find the correct citation in the style of your choice under the "cite" icon, for when the time comes to cite your sources.

if we don’t have the book you need, and another library has it and it’s willing to lend it, we can get the book for you through summit or interlibrary loan (ill).

searching for journal articles in library databases

reached city.

while books talk about only one broad thing, in depth, for a very long time, journal articles found in databases typically talk about very specific things, for a short period of time.

make sure you know the difference between library, database, journal, and article, as well as their relationship:

library { databases { journals { articles } } }.

to find journal articles from the library:

  • locate the article databases and more section on the library website
  • under it, click the all databases by subject link

here you will find the find articles page. from here you can find databases either by name from a-z or by subject.

examples of the databases you will find the most useful are academic search complete, popular magazines, and opposing viewpoints.

for the most part, databases’ use and structure are very similar. they mainly differ in subject matter and scope.

click the database's link. if you see a page asking you for your mhcc id number and mymhcc password, please have it ready (not an issue if you do this from campus).

if everything goes as expected, you will see the database’ initial search page. type your keywords6, use boolean logic if necessary, select articles in full text, select peer-reviewed if the professor specified it, date of publication limits if desired, and press search.

if your search is successful, the results page will show you a list of articles relevant7 to your keywords. select an article by clicking its title.

here you will find more information about the article, including the title, authors, journal name, and, most importantly, the abstract. the abstract is your friend!

if you think this article is good for your project, access is by clicking the full text link.

lastly, here you can print the article, save it to a flash drive, even the database will give you a folder to save your research.

the easiest way to keep your research articles is to have the database email them to you. all your research in one place within reach.

at the full text page, you will also find the correct citation for the article, in the style of your choice. copy and paste the citation. the database can also send you the article’s citation by email, along with the article, if you choose.

you may be able to find articles easier using google scholar. however, accessing databases using scholar is like trying to get in using the back door. if you find and try to download an article through google scholar, you will likely get a message saying basically "who the hell are you? give me $30".

conclusion: use library resources to find books, ebooks and articles from journal databases.


go to the find articles page and identify two or three journal databases you would likely use, based on your program, interests, etc.

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

intermission: match the question/request for information with its best source.

chapter 5: searching for information on the web

objective: the student will use the web and the site: command to search for information.

vocabulary: internet, web, domain.

riding goat.

while library resources may be more than enough for your project, you may have to go to the web to get the information you need.

since we use the web everyday, we might as well learn how to use it properly.

domain: the .(dot)something ending of each website's name. each website has a domain.

therefore, websites can be classified by domains, depending on their origin, function, content, and/or purpose.

  • .com (personal or commercial)
  • .net (personal or commercial. less popular)
  • .org (non-for-profit, charitable organizations)
  • .edu (colleges and universities, research institutions)
  • .gov8 (u. s. government)
  • .mil (u. s. military)
  • .int (international treaty organizations)

knowing about domains comes in handy because we can use them to get better quality information from the internet by searching within a specific domain.

to search the internet within a specific domain, we use the site: command.

here's how it works:

  • open your browser.
  • in google search, type your keyword or question.
  • type site:domain or website after or before your question, then click the search button.

this works not just for domains, it also allows you to find information within a single website using its url.

conclusion: the site: command is a powerful tool you can use to search the web for quality information for your project.


find information on the web coming from .com, .org, .edu, and .gov websites. compare results and think on how this feature can help you do better web research.

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

chapter 6: formatting, citation and academic honesty

objective: the student will apply format rules according to their specific style. the student will also acknowledge the need to cite and give credit to information sources.

vocabulary: citation, plagiarize, paraphrase, quote.

naive confession.

you have chosen a topic, done research on it, and organized your findings in a logical manner, in an essay, speech, or presentation. It is time to cite your sources and make your project look nice.

your professor expects your paper to look a certain way.

manuals of style: mla, apa, chicago, ap, cse, ...

instructions on how to cite, organize, and format your paper, specify margins, cover page, pagination, works cited, references page or footnotes, font.

cite sources using both in-text citation and a references/work cited page. ask a librarian if you have any questions about this.

common knowledge?

paraphrase or direct quote.

academic honesty and plagiarism.

nowadays, plagiarism is extremely easy to spot:

your professor knows you have a writing style and vocabulary. they also know what you do and do not know about the topic.

most student papers bought on the web are either gibberish put together by algorythm, or nonsense written by some guy who "freelances" for a term paper mill.

put all this together, cheating is easy to spot and hardly worth it.

plagiarism is cheating. the college takes cheating very seriously. it can result in failure or even expulsion.

if you cheat, we will rat on you to all other colleges. we will tell them everything...

if you take away only one thing from this tutorial, let it be this: scholarship is built on trust.

conclusion: scholarship is built on trust.


almost all disciplines and programs have their favorite citation style when it comes to their own research. If you are enrolled in a program, or are interested in one, find out what the preferred style for that program or discipline is.

auto-evaluation. answer the following questions:

appendix 1: boolean operators

appendix 2: how to evaluate information

appendix 3: talking to the reference librarian

appendix 4: bibliography from the list of ingredients in a bottle of hand lotion.

appendix 5: brief bibliography tutorial.

appendix 6: using library databases.


1. definitions: merriam-webster dictionary.

2. cambridge dictionary:


4. russell, daniel. the joy of search : a google insider's guide to going beyond the basics. the mit press, 2019.

5. we could go in more detail about the differences between public and college libraries. for now suffice to say that, while college libraries mainly have books that have something to do with the classes taught in the library’s college, public libraries have to meet the information needs of a much more diverse population. this is why you will be more likely to find the latest john grisham, dora roberts or children’s books in spanish at a public library rather than at a college library.

6. Here you can use more than one keyword and be more specific. remember, while books talk about one thing for a long time, journal articles talk about many specific things for a short time.

7. relevant, in this context, means your keywords are present within the article somewhere.

8. some government websites, like the u.s. postal service, or military recruitment sites, use the .com domain.

images courtesy of

this project was made possible in part by the acrl professional development scholarship.