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How to Do Research

A general process for doing research at the college level.

Keep in Mind

Here are some things to keep in mind throughout the research process:


Be sure to double-check your assignment guidelines. Your professors will usually provide you with a list of things that must be included.

Look for instructions about

  • the number of sources,
  • the types of sources, or
  • where to locate your sources.

It's usually okay to have more than a required amount, such as 7 sources instead of 5. It's never okay to have less than a required amount, such as 3 sources instead of 5. If you're ever confused about the guidelines, ask your professor!

If you're confused about where to locate your sources (Primo, specific databases, the shelves in the library) ask a librarian!


It's always helpful to know more about a subject than what actually makes it into the paper or assignment.

Your professors read stuff all the time—students' papers, other professors' articles, journal articles, etc. They can tell if you've taken the time to do your own research. Plus, it's good to have some extra information if you suddenly find that you need to fill more pages with stuff. :)


Research assignments come with different deadlines. Know when your research should be completed. Put it in your calendar or your phone. Write it on a post-it note and stick it on your computer. Whatever works for you.

Then, set up a research schedule. We suggest 6 steps for doing research, but some steps take more time than others. Does it take a while for you to brainstorm about a topic? Schedule more time for that. Do you need more time to search in databases? Ditto! Set aside more time. Create a system that helps YOU.


While you're researching, keep track of your sources. You'll need them for your citations. (See the How to Write a Research Paper LibGuide.) If you don't cite a source correctly, you're plagiarizing that source. And that's not good.

If you have any questions, please read through our Plagiarism LibGuide. If you still have questions, come talk to us. Use the reference chat. Stop us on the sidewalk. Whatever works best for you!