Performing High-Quality Research

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This guide is meant to assist students in any discipline with learning how to perform research. You may need to adjust parts of this guide to fit your needs, that's okay! Research is fun and exciting and should work for you! 


Having a thorough understanding of the different components of the assignment is very important. It will be easier to do quality research if you understand each part of the assignment. 

  • Was the topic given to you by your professor? 
    • If so, make sure you understand what the topic is and the different parts of the research question. If you have any questions, ask your professor. 
    • If not, brainstorm ideas that interest you and are within the guidelines set by the professor and the assignment. See the research guide How to Choose a Research Topic from the University of Michigan Flint further information. 
  • What are the guidelines for the assignment?
    • The guidelines for the assignment explain the different components needed to complete the assignment (ex: paper and PowerPoint presentation), how the assignment will be graded, and what the goals of the assignment are. If you have any questions, ask your professor. 
    • Most of the information about the guidelines for the assignment can be found in the class syllabus or the course page in Blackboard. 
  • For more information, see Understanding Assignments from the UNC Libraries

Understanding the timeline will help you make a schedule for completing the assignment. 

  • When is the assignment due?
    • Make sure you are aware of the date/time that the assignment will be due. This information can be found in either the syllabus, or in the course page on Blackboard. 
  • Specify when you should have certain part of the assignment finished.
    • For example, if you have one month to complete a research paper, you might want to have the thesis clearly thought-out by the end of the third day, preliminary searches done by the end of the 1st week, and a first draft completed by the end of the 3rd week. 
    • Assignment timelines will vary depending on the date the assignment was assigned and when it is due, as well as the complexity of the assignment. 
  • If you want help detailing a date-specific plan for getting your assignment done, try using the Assignment Calculator

Your thesis is one of the most important parts of your assignment. It will help to guide your research and determine the types of resources that you will need. 

  • If you weren't provided a thesis, you'll need to formulate one. 
    • Think about which aspects of the topic interest you and how they are related. 
    • It's important to remember that the thesis is a statement or claim that your research supports. The topic of the paper is the subject matter.
  • For more information, see Developing a Thesis from Harvard. 

Finding background information and understanding the more specific parts of your research topic will be easier if you first know more general information. 

  • Use the internet or reference resources like encyclopedias or CREDO Reference Academic Core to give you some basic, contextual information about the topic.

Once you understand the topic, guidelines, timeline, and have a thesis for your assignment, you can begin doing research!

  • You'll first want to come up with a few key phrases or words to start your search. 
    • Example: You are researching the link between childhood obesity and the quality of school lunches in grade schools. Come up with a few key phrases or words, such as:
      • "childhood obesity" AND "grade school lunch"
      • "quality of school lunch"
    • If you find that your search is giving you too many results, try using some database limiters. These are the check boxes that help you narrow your search by source type, publication, subject, etc. 
    • If you find that your search is giving you too few results, try broadening your search terms.
      • Example: using "childhood obesity" instead of "childhood obesity in grade-school students" 
  • At this point, read the abstracts or short synopses of the resources you find to see if they could potentially be useful to your research.
  • To evaluate the information you find, use the C.R.A.A.P. method and research guide

Once you've found some good preliminary sources, read through them fully and determine if they will be helpful to your research. 

  • Set aside time to read through each source with a critical eye. This step will take time and rushing might cause you to miss key points of the text. 
  • While you're reading, think about how this source is related to your research. If it is not related, make a note and set the resource aside. 
  • It can be helpful to take notes or highlight sections of each source, so you remember the most important pieces of information. 
  • For more information, read Critical Reading Strategies from the University of Minnesota Center for Writing. 
  • If you are researching in the sciences, there is additional information on understanding scientific resarch articles in Carolina University's Researching and Writing in STEM research guide. 

Once you have read through your preliminary sources, you will notice that you will most likely need to find additional sources or have research gaps in the sources you already have. Go back to step 5 and perform more detailed research by using more specific key words or phrases to find additional resources. 


Once you have found all of the resources you need, you are ready to start writing your paper!