Conducting Research and Gathering Information

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The process of conducting research and gathering information is the next step after you have narrowed your topic. Before you start researching, make a plan by considering a few aspects of the information you want to gather.

  • Ask specific questions that must be answered
  • Consider the type of information you want to use
  • Determine where you can find that information
  • Evaluate how much information you need

Asking factual questions before conducting research

If you used brainstorming or another method to develop your topic, refer to your notes from the process to help determine the direction you take while conducting research and gathering information. You want to ask the questions of “who, what, where, when, how or why” with respect to your topic.

Unless you are writing for a more expert audience or the topic revolves around information that is common knowledge, assume your readers know very little about your topic. The goal of your paper, and thus, your research, is to educate readers. Gathering information with this in mind, then, includes providing the necessary background information.

For example, factual questions you might want to answer for a research paper about President Lyndon B. Johnson and his impact on the Civil Right Movement might include the following:

  • Who was Lyndon B. Johnson?
  • Where and when was Lyndon B. Johnson born?
  • What was his political party affiliation?
  • When did he serve as the president?
  • How did his political views or upbringing influence his stance on civil rights?
  • How did he impact the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What important contributions or pieces of legislation are attributed to him?

These are just some of the factual questions you might seek to answer while conducting research.

Asking interpretive questions to shape the process of gathering information

Depending on the assignment instructions and your topic, you might need to ask interpretive questions as well. Some you might develop before gathering information; others you might develop as you are conducting research. In either case, think creatively while asking these types of questions:

  • Comparison/analogy—Are there similarities between your topic and another topic? What about within a different time period or geographic location?
  • Hypothetical—Would something be different today if something in the past did not happen?
  • Judgment—What is your assessment or opinion based on what you know?
  • Prediction—How do you think something is likely to look in the future based on information you have today?
  • Solution—What are possible solutions to a problem you identify as existing today?

Forming interpretive questions can help you write a more focused, creative and well-thought-out paper.

Conducting research for specific types of information

The topic of your research paper likely influences the type of information that is necessary to write it, but you still have many options. Asking yourself what types of information, whether you intend to conduct primary research, secondary research or both makes the process of gathering information and conducting research much easier. Consider all types of information, including the following types:

  • Analyses
  • Documentaries
  • Facts
  • Government research
  • History
  • Interviews
  • Laws/legislative information
  • News stories/reports
  • Observation studies
  • Opinions
  • Personal narratives or reflections
  • Research studies
  • Surveys
  • Videos

This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good place to start when considering what you are looking for with your information search.

Deciding where to look for sources while conducting research

Once you have an idea of the type of information to seek while gathering information, decide where to find it. Your school or local library and the internet are where you are likely to conduct most of your research, unless you incorporate primary research into your paper. Potential sources of information are found in many places:

  • Archives in the county library, government offices or local newspapers
  • Books
  • Government agencies and organizations
  • Government records or publications
  • Interviews
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper articles
  • Online databases
  • Personal communications
  • Reliable websites
  • Scholarly journals

These are just some of the sources from which you can gather information. When conducting research, evaluate sources of information to make sure they are credible. Similarly, think creatively for untraditional, yet reliable sources of information.

Evaluating the amount of information you need for gathering information

Before conducting research, you also want to consider the amount of information you need. The length of your paper largely dictates the number of sources and amount of information necessary to write a well-developed paper. Take both into consideration as you write to ensure you have an adequate amount of information from conducting research to write a well-thought-out and top-notch paper.

Through the process of gathering information and conducting research, you are likely to develop additional questions to add to the ones with which you start. Through the process of taking notes, you record the information you need as your research progresses in order to make outlining and writing your first draft easier. The important thing is to have a plan and ask questions to know what information you seek, where to find it and how to evaluate the amount of research data you need.