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How to do Research

Introduction: Choosing a Topic

There is a lot more to research than just looking for books or articles on your topic! We are going to help you start from the very beginning, with books and websites about each aspect of writing a research paper.

The first step in writing a research paper is understanding your assignment and choosing your topic or, if your topic has been chosen for you, making that topic your own. When you are assigned your subject, try to do some background reading before you decide on your topic or thesis statement. Here, you may want to turn to an encyclopedia or reference material, or reread the primary material that has been assigned to you. You can also look at our Homework Help guides on each course and click on some of the general searches that we have created. Here are some great websites that have information on this first step:

Queen’s University Introduction to Research: Choosing your Research Topic

University of Saskatchewan Research Guides: Developing your Topic

Doing the Research

Next, you will want to get into the actual research portion of your assignment. Having chosen your topic, pick out the keywords of what your assignment is about, and search for those either in our library catalogue or any of our databases – especially the databases that we have chosen for being most useful for each subject in our Homework Help section. If you use websites, you will want to make sure what you are reading is accurate and written by someone that you can rely on. If you are stuck, come into the library and ask one of the librarians, or chat with one of our librarians online. Here are some websites on formulating a search strategy and on evaluating resources:

University of Saskatchewan: Formulating your search strategy

University of Saskatchewan: How to Evaluate Information Sources

Reading and Preparation

So, you have done your research, and you have found some articles or books that are about your topic. Next step – read them! While you are reading, you may want to take notes on what you have read, so you don’t have to go back and read each book a couple of times to find what you wanted to cite. Plus, taking proper notes now means you are less likely to accidentally plagiarize whatever it is you are using for your research. Here, you might also want to start keeping track of what you are citing from, so you do not have to scramble to write your bibliography – check out our citation guide to help you there. Here is a good website on taking notes while doing research:

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Organizing and Writing

Are you ready to start writing? Do not expect to write it all in one shot – write at least one draft, revise and edit it, and then work on your final draft. You might want to start with writing a thesis statement – this is the sentence where you explain exactly what your essay is about, what you hope to prove, and how you’re going to prove it. Here are some links to help you get started.

Queen’s University Learning Commons: Thesis Statements

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements

You will also want to organize your essay outline now, so you do not have to worry about it later. Again, some websites to help you out with your outline and writing:

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Four Main Components for Effective Outlines

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Starting the Writing Process


Once you have written your first draft, it is time to edit. Step away from the computer for a little while (an hour or a day), then come back with a fresh start and read your essay over again. Look for spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, places where you could write something more clearly, or move sentences and paragraphs around if it helps make more sense. Do not expect Word to catch all your mistakes. If you are looking for more tips on editing, read on through to these links:

University of North Carolina: Editing and Proofreading

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Proofreading: Where do I begin?


If you have made it this far, you have picked your topic, done your research, read and made notes on your research, made your outline, written a thesis statement, written your essay, and edited and proofread it. Again, you will want to check out our citation guide to finish your bibliography if you have not done that yet. Congratulations on finishing your essay!