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Academic Skills: Research Guide: Research Process

Resources to help with academic research, including databases, Google Scholar, how-to guides and discipline-specific resources.

Research is a process

Why can't I just google it?

Why can't I just google it? Many students use Google as a starting point for information. While it's a great place to start, it can have some limitations. Watch the video to help you understand the pros and cons of using Google.

This video was created by La Trobe University Library and made available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

Search smarter, search faster

Research skills

The search process graphic, RMIT University, accessed 07/05/2017 <https://emedia.rmit.edu.au/isearch/search-process>

Define the task: 

It is important to understand what your assignment topic means before you start your research, otherwise, it can lead to confusion, frustration and wasted time. It is also one of the common causes of assignment failure. Doing some background reading will also give you a better understanding of your topic and provide direction for your research. It helps you define terms, gather facts, and get an overview of the topic. Further, developing powerful questions allows you to expand your ideas about a topic. Using any one (or all) of the Knowledge Compass frameworks will help you to create powerful questions for your inquiry/research so as to gain a deeper understanding of your topic. 

Click the tab Topic Selection to learn more about defining your task.

Locate information:  

If you know where to look and how to search efficiently, you'll find plenty of resources quickly and easily. To search effectively, you need to develop a clear search strategy that will find all the relevant information on your topic. Identifying keywords or phrases, and expanding the list of words to include synonyms helps in this. Understanding how search engines decide what we see and using strategies that help find the most relevant information enables you to search online in the most efficient and effective way. 

Select resources:

Once you've found your resources, you need to choose the best ones to use for your assignment. It's time to critically evaluate what you've read. There are some strategies you can use to help you select resources:

  • Skimming and scanning can help you select reliable, relevant resources without reading every word on the page.
  • Questioning what you read helps you to fully understand a text and form your opinions about a subject. 
    • It's important to understand bias when you are researching because it helps you see the purpose of a text, whether it's a piece of writing, a painting, a photograph - anything. 

There are three guiding questions to help you step back from a text and gain a critical perspective:

* What story is being told?
* Who's telling the story?
* How would the story be different if someone else told it?

  • Studying images, paintings and photography give you an insight into society and people that books and websites may not. 
  • While you always need to question the information and consider its historical context, there are some specific questions to ask when you're evaluating websites. Click here to learn a way to help you evaluate websites.
  • Using primary and secondary sources in your work adds credibility to your argument. Primary sources are used by a wide range of people – writers, academics, students, artists and others – as part of their work. When secondary sources are created, they can potentially provide a different interpretation or alter the significance of the relevant primary source. Click here to learn more about primary and secondary sources.
  • When using images and text from your research in your work, it's important to think about copyright - Copyright is a law that gives the person who made a creative work exclusive rights over how other people can use it. Most works, including images and websites, are covered by copyright, but there are services like Creative Commons Search which limit your search to copyright-free images.

Organise notes:

Organising the information you've read into a good set of notes will make writing your assignment much easier and quicker. Making notes helps you remember what you've read. In fact, a good set of notes can be the foundation for your assignment.

There are free online tools you can use to help organise your research process and notes, and help you put together your final product efficiently. These include:

  • Notemaking tools
    • Evernote: best for taking notes, clipping web pages and recording audio; supports iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Web
    • Microsoft OneNote: best for organising thoughts, to-do lists, and projects; supports iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Web
    • Google Keep: best for collecting images, drafting documents, and creating checklists; supports iOS, Android, Web
    • Zoho Notebook: best for visually organising multiple note formats; supports Mac, iOS, Android
    • Simplenote: best for taking notes without distraction; supports iOS, Android, Mac, Web
  • Bookmarking tools
    • Diigosave, tag, annotate, and organise links, articles, images, videos, etc; create a personal library for different subjects; works with most web browsers including IE, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari; syncs across devices   
    • Instapaper: Save, read, and manage articles, images, videos, and websites; syncs across devices; can also be used as a notemaking tool
    • Xmarks: works with most web browsers including IE, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari; syncs across device
    • Pocket: save any webpage or anything from another web app [like Twitter, email]; don't need an internet connection to read what you've saved; syncs across devices.   
  • Bibliography tools
    • Zotero: automatically senses content in your web browser, allowing you to add it to your personal library with a single click; collects all your research in a single, searchable interface [PDFs, images, audio and video files, snapshots of web pages, etc]; automatically indexes the full-text content of your library
    • refDot: a chrome extension; easy to use once installed - just click on its icon to fill in the bibliographic information 
    • Citefast: fast and accurate citation generator; generates bibliography, in-text citations and a title page in APA 6th edition, MLA and Chicago
    • bibme: fully automatic bibliography maker that auto-fills
    • MS Word: create a bibliography using Word's in-text referencing feature