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RSOC 51: Religion in America (Wright)

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The Research Process

Step 1: Choose a Topic About Which You Are Curious

The first step in the research process is choosing a topic. Make sure to choose a topic you are curious about and find interesting -- it will make the research process easier and more enjoyable. Aspects of Step 2: Gathering Background Information will provide fertile ground for choosing a topic you are really, truly fascinated by.

Step 2: Gather Background Information

Browse background sources to learn more about concepts and topics you're curious about, and to get introduced to new topics you might be even more interested in. Or, if you are committed to a topic already, gather background information to give you a solid, broad understanding of the topic. Consult the Background Information section of this guide for instructions.

Step 3: Develop and Plan a Research Strategy

Now that you have a topic and a broad understanding of it, determine the kinds of data and sources you will need to compile for your research project: do you need statistics? What field work are you planning to conduct? What secondary sources do you need? This is a good time to get serious about documenting the pieces of information you are gathering.

For conducting primary research, such as observing and interviewing subjects, consult the section on Ethnographic Research Methods for more information. You should also support your field research with secondary sources, such as published books and peer-reviewed scholarly articles.

Secondary research includes searching for books and articles using the SCU Library's tools. This can be more difficult than it looks, but beginning with a search strategy can make your database searches more successful.  Start with brainstorming keywords.

Step 4: Select the Right Database

Once you have a topic and keywords, consult the Finding Books & Articles section of this research guide. Select a database that is applicable for your topic to search for articles and other materials like reports. To find books, use OSCAR, the library's catalog. To re-consult background sources as you encounter new concepts during your research process, go back to the Background Information section of this research guide.

Step 5: Find Scholarly Articles

Once you have selected a database, use your keywords to search and find full text scholarly articles.

Step 6: Repeat

Searching is a cycle. In other words, you often will need to search multiple times and in many different places.  You might modify or adjust your topic, brainstorm new keywords, and try searching in additional databases.  Repeating your search strategy can help you find additional and more refined sources.

Step 7: Organize Sources

The final step in the search process is to organize your sources for the writing process.  By organizing and annotating the sources you have found, you will save time and improve the quality of your research paper. Google Drive/Google Docs is an easy solution for this, but you may want to check out RefWorks, a citation management tool the Library subscribes to.