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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

International Student Guide to Using the MPAL

The Research Process

It can help to think of research as a process that is organic and changing even as it is happening. However, pinning down some basic steps in the research process can help you focus your research and, if you don't even know what to do next, spark progress in the right direction. The following steps are summarized from Booth's The Craft of Research (Q180.55.M4 B66 2016).

The five basic steps of the research process could be summarized as follows:

  1. Choose a topic and create a research question
  2. Find Sources
  3. Use the sources to begin to form support for answering your question
  4. Begin the writing process
  5. Drafting and revising

While all of these steps have their challenges, this guide will focus on the first two steps of this process, during which you will probably find yourself searching for and using library resources most often. For questions about the other steps in the process, visit the UIUC Writing Center or see Booth's The Craft of Research.

Choose a topic and create a research question

You'll need to find a topic specific enough to let you master a reasonable amount of information but broad enough that you will be able to find sources to use for support. To start out, ask yourself questions about that topic--what aspects of it interest you? Then, determine if there are sources with the kind and amount of data necessary to support answers to those questions. Dictionaries and encyclopedias, like those listed below, can be helpful for identifying topics. 

Find sources

MPAL has a wide variety of high-quality resources and databases to help you get started on your research, but facing so many choices can be overwhelming. Below you'll find a brief description of each of the main resources that MPAL offers, which will hopefully help you narrow down the best resources for your assignment and topic.

Tools for Finding Sources

Research and Writing Help