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Graduate Student Research Guide: Introduction to Research

This research guide provides a brief introduction to Graduate Student Research

Introduction to Research

This page provides a brief overview of how to begin the research process and lists services offered by the Jerry Falwell Library. To get started this video tutorial series outlines key components of conducting research at the Jerry Falwell Library. 

Start Here: Important First Questions

Before beginning the research process, pause to ask yourself these guiding questions:

  • What is your assignment, and what are your professor's requirements? 

Take into consideration resource types (e.g. books, articles, data sets, market reports), resource publication dates, and scholarly literature available on your topic. Will you be able to successfully meet your professor's requirements given the scholarly resources available about your topic?

  • What format is required? 

Are you writing a literature review, book review, or a research paper

  • How do I want to approach this topic? 

Who is my intended audience? What is the purpose of my writing-- to inform, to persuade, to present original research, or something else? What new idea am I introducing, or what is the central argument that I am trying to prove? What literature is available about my topic? Answers to these questions should inform how you approach the research, reading, and writing process. 

Research Tips and Tricks

Using a few of these tips and tricks will save you time throughout the research process! 

  • When searching for books and articles, skim your search results

As you begin to research your topic, only skim materials. Briefly reviewing a book's synopsis or an article's abstract is enough to determine if the resource if valuable to your project.

  • Be wary of highlighting 

It is tempting to simply highlight important information as you read scholarly works. Highlighting means that you plan on returning to that portion of the work again. Rather than highlighting and returning to re-read, save time by taking notes as you engage with the literature.

  • Take notes as you read scholarly materials 

After collecting materials, begin to read your resources. Take paraphrased notes as you read. Taking notes will allow you to organize your ideas ahead of sitting down to write, which will save you valuable time. 

  • Use a citation management service

If you want to use the material for your project, save the resource to your computer or to your RefWorks account. You can review this tutorial or workshop to learn more about using RefWorks to simplify the research process. 

  • Start early

Research takes time. Beginning the research process early provides time for reflection, trial-and-error, and if you need research assistance, you can collaborate with a librarian ahead of an upcoming deadline. 

Diving Into Your Discipline

As you dive into your research, consider the following: 

  • Collect background information

Before investing in a research topic, find background information about your topic of interest. Use your background information to inform how you move forward with your research. If you are struggling to find scholarly resources, approach your idea from a different perspective or try a different search strategy. A great place to find background information is in encyclopedias and handbooks, such as in Credo Reference. Additionally, conducting sample searches in Library's catalog, Academic Search Ultimate, ProQuest Central are great ways to begin the research process. 

  • Material currency

Do you need materials published within a specific date range, or are all publication dates acceptable? Limit your catalog and database searches to meet your date specifications. 

  • Material reliability

Not all academic, scholarly resources are created equal. When selecting resources for your research, evaluate each resource for its currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. The workshop Credible Sources: Checking the Quality of Information discusses how to choose credible sources. If you are having trouble discerning whether or not a resource is reliable, reach out to a librarian for assistance. 

  • Scholarly communication

Where does your discipline publish leading research? For example, scholars in the humanities commonly publish their research in books, the sciences publish journal articles, and businesses publish market reports. Look for material types that align with your discipline.