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Interdisciplinary & Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research: Getting Started with Research

A resource for student researchers and their faculty mentors.

What Research is Not?

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? - Albert Einstein

Research is not

- Googling

- one-shot, nonrepetitive

- a quick activity

- clear-cut and linear process

- a shallow study of the subject

- based on assumption, beliefs, and untested generalization

- done with a closed mind not open to surprises

- simply gathering of information

- summarizing other people's research

- rewording phrases, paraphrasing, and citing each source

- rearranging or restating other people's research

- it is not repeating procedures and reproducing results

- final solutions to problems explored

Qualities of a Good Researcher

Thirst for knowledge











Getting Started with Research

What is Research? How to Get Started?

The word "research" might seem daunting but it is not as new or difficult as it seems.  It is something we all do almost every day of our lives. We do it when we ask our friends if the movie they saw was any good.  We do it when we go on Yelp to find a place to eat.  We even do it when we read the comments section of an article on our favorite site.  

Research is an inquiry; it is investigative and repetitive. 

It depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field. It builds upon itself through searching, browsing existing research, and asking questions.


Research is more cyclical than straightforward or linear.

As you advance in your research, you could refine and revise your research topic as well as your search strategies.  

    The Research Process 

Research process-1.JPG

                                      Thanks to IUPUI University Library for allowing remix of this graphic under a Creative Commons license.

The research process is a cyclical process that generally involves several activities:

  1. developing a research question and identifying your information needs (your topic or argument or thesis statement)
  2. finding background information about the topic using Google, Wikipedia, newspapers, books to understand words and concepts related to the topic that will help with your research
  3. Using search tools such as OneSearch, library databases, and Google Scholar to locate relevant materials for your topic (CHECK: Are you finding enough sources? If not, you may need to return to #1 and refine your topic.)
  4. Reading, evaluating, and analyzing relevant information (Ask the 6 question words - who, what, where, when, why, how - to determine if the source is good) (CHECK: Think! Are your sources the best evidence to support your argument? If not, return to #3.)
  5. Synthesizing the information to support your point of view and presenting the information ethically by providing correct citations (CHECK: Synthesize and take good notes! Don't fall victim to plagiarism when you write.)

Some activities might be simultaneous. You might develop and refine your question after locating and evaluating your sources. Your search for relevant sources may continue after you read and analyze some sources and refer to their references/works cited lists.

Most important, your research papers and projects are ways in which you explore and enter these conversations! You become a contributor to an ongoing conversation related to your research topic.

Research is joining Scholarly Conversations

Just as in face-to-face conversations, academic research or scholarship involves a give and take, point and counterpoint, and building upon ideas, perspectives, interpretations, insights, discoveries, and inventions. However, unlike face-to-face conversations that happen in real-time and generate instant responses, scholarly conversations happen over a long period of time. The conversations develop slowly as researchers gather and analyze information, interpret their findings, and go through the lengthy publishing process. 

How do you join the conversation?

  • Read up on the subject you are interested in exploring
  • Determine the arguments presented to you
  • Recognize you are entering into an ongoing scholarly conversation and not a finished conversation
  • Recognize the influence of other voices on the argument
  • Suspend judgment on an argument until the larger context for the scholarly conversation is better understood
  • Recognize that systems privilege authorities and that not having a fluency in the language and process of a discipline disempowers their ability to participate and engage
  • Add your voice to the conversation!
    • What conclusions have you drawn? What questions haven’t been answered? Whose voices are silenced/ignored? 

                                                                           Clemson Libraries. Joining the (Scholarly) Conversation. YouTube. 4 Aug.  2016.

Instead of having a research topic that your explore for your research project, it is good idea to have a research question.  Research question is an answerable inquiry into a specific concern or issue. On any given topic, you can find an overwhelming amount of information taking you in various different directions and sometimes causing confusion. A research question will help you define your investigation, set boundaries, and provide direction to your research.

Don't worry! You do need to start with a research question right away. Below are tips on how to develop a research question. 

Let's get started!

Pick a Topic

  • Make sure you understand your assignment. Talk to your instructor if you have any questions.

  • Think about your interests. What would you like to spend time learning more about? Look over your course materials and class notes for ideas. Write down a list of keywords and phrases that interest you.

  • Be careful not to pick a topic too narrow or too broad. You might not be able to find enough relevant information or you might be overwhelmed with too much information. 

  • Do preliminary research to identify what has already been done on the topic and what are the issues surrounding the topic.

  • Based on your research try to narrow your topic by geographical region, culture, time frame, event or aspect, discipline or subject, person or group

  • Look for a point that you can argue for or against, an idea you can compare or contrast, a

    cause or effect relationship you can explain, a main point that can be divided into

    sub points, or a question that you can answer.

  • As you start your research, you might need to adjust your topic depending on the information available. Remember picking a topic is itself an act involving research.  

                                                             Libncsu. Picking Your Research Topic. YouTube.  1 May 2014.


Narrow Your Research Topic to Develop Your Research Question

Once you begin to understand the topic and the issues surrounding it, you can start to narrow your topic and develop a research question. Do this by asking the 6 journalistic question words.

6 Journalistic Question Words to help you refine by Narrowing

Who: Are you interested in a specific group of people? Can your topic be narrowed by gender, sex, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status or something else? Are there any key figures related to your topic? Who

What: What is the scholarly conversation on this topic? What are the issues surrounding your topic? Are there subtopics? In looking at background information, did you notice any gaps or questions that seemed unanswered?

Where: Can your topic be narrowed down to a geographic location? Warning: Don't get too narrow here. You might not be able to find enough information on a town or state.

When: Is your topic current or historical? Is it confined to a specific time period? Was there a causative event that led your topic to become an area of study?

Why: Why are you interested in this topic? Why should others be interested?

How: What types of information do you need? 


An Example of How to Narrow a Research Topic to Develop a Focused Research Question

Developing research question.JPG

Who does globalization impact local economies of developing countries?

Specific question (using who, what, where, when, why, how)

impact of globalization on developing countries

Narrow topic (based on research from reliable sources)

impact of globalization

Narrow topic (based on research from reliable sources)


Broad topic (background information from Wikipedia)

Types of Research


How do we know something exists? There are a number of ways of knowing…

  • -Sensory Experience
  • -Agreement with others
  • -Expert Opinion
  • -Logic
  • -Scientific Method (we’re using this one)

The Scientific Process (replicable)

  1. Identify a problem
  2. Clarify the problem
  3. Determine what data would help solve the problem
  4. Organize the data
  5. Interpret the results

General Types of Research

  • Descriptive — survey, historical, content analysis, qualitative (ethnographic, narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, and case study)
  • Associational — correlational, causal-comparative
  • Intervention — experimental, quasi-experimental, action research (sort of)

Graphic showing images illustrating the text above

General Format of a Research Publication

  • Background of the Problem (ending with a problem statement) — Why is this important to study? What is the problem being investigated?
  • Review of Literature — What do we already know about this problem or situation?
  • Methodology (participants, instruments, procedures) — How was the study conducted? Who were the participants? What data were collected and how?
  • Analysis — What are the results? What did the data indicate?
  • Results — What are the implications of these results? How do they agree or disagree with previous research? What do we still need to learn? What are the limitations of this study?

Information and graphic on this page have been borrowed from the University of Connecticut's Educational Research Basics with permission from Dr. Siegle.

Please view the video below for more information about the various types of research.


                                                                                   PHILO-notes. Types of Research. YouTube. 7 Nov. 2020