Skip to main content

Scholarly Research Process Outline: Starting Your Research

provides pathways to more comprehensive resources.

Strategic start to research


Before one starts searching for information, it is important to craft a reasonable search strategy, which includes understanding the appropriate terminology, the scale of the topic, the limits and facets to the topic, and the best tools to find the most complete, precise, or convenient materials.

One must always critically analyze the resulting materials because many items are not current, accurate, or complete—or are written to support a specific position rather than providing a balanced representation of all perspectives. Consider using the CRAAP test: is the material Current, Relevant, Authoritative, Accurate, and Purposeful? These questions should be answered before you use any materials to support a position or a conclusion.



There are a number of ways to understand the basic terminology, key authors and organizations, and historical coverage of a topic. One good way to approach this overview is to search within the RELIABLE reference tools such as handbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias on our Facts/Definitions information page.  You may also search for more in-depth online and paper reference tools found on our subject guide pages.



A good way to select a topic of a reasonable scale -- not too broad or too specific -- which is likely to have enough literature that addresses that concern, is to use the controlled vocabulary or the facets that are presented on search-result pages. Facets contain breakdowns of the larger topic into more precise groupings, often created using thesaurus terms or word-frequency analyses. Consider using these facets as guides for narrowing your topic.

What is a good research topic?

  • First, select a topic that interests you and which you wish to learn more about.
  • A topic has to be debatable. It does not necessarily mean that it has to be controversial. This means that you need to formulate a topic of inquiry where you try to explore a connection or relationship between and among ideas. For example, the topic formulated as Socratic Method is not debatable. It is a very broad concept that you can easily find described in an encyclopedia. However, the same topic formulated as Socratic Method --- Its Advantages and Disadvantages in Elementary School Teaching is clearly debatable. 
  • Some topics are not suitable for a college research paper, such as obvious facts, opinions, or events that are described in encyclopedias or other reference sources. These documented ideas can be used to support your own ideas and arguments in a paper, or can be considered as an element in constructing your own hypothesis or thesis statement. Also, topics or ideas that are very sketchy and unverified by mainstream sources may not be appropriate, as you will have difficulty finding evidence and prior material on which to build your position. Very recent events may also not have a substantial body of information or interpretation sufficient for a research paper. Your personal biographical facts or memoirs are quite good.... for autobiography or memoirs, but not for a research paper based on external sources.
  • The scale of the research question is very important. Do not pick a topic that is so broad that it cannot be addressed in a simple position paper...such as the large topic of gun control. Do not pick a topic that is so specific that it will not have enough materials for a bibliography...such as the very detailed question of should the public be able to buy a Luger pistol. Find a facet of the topic to consider...such as should background checks be an essential element of gun control? 



WARNING: Searching the Internet will provide many unique pieces of  information, but the results can be false, skewed, and inaccurate. Focus on the accuracy of the content, not the format or the place where you find it. The web provides high quality information from professional associations, societies, and academic institutions. However, the web also contains sites which provide false, misleading, and outrageous content; and some sites appear authoritative but are really only presenting the portion of the material that supports their positions. Everything is written for a purpose, so be alert in order to identify misleading information.



You should be able to justify the articles and web pages you have selected to support your position.

The following CRAAP criteria must be addressed for each item you use as a reference in your bibliography:

  • Currency -- is the material recent enough to consider the latest aspects and findings on your topic?
  • Relevance -- does the material speak exactly to the topics you address in your position?
  • Authority -- how can you determine the credentials of the author or organization that created the material?
  • Accuracy -- how can you determine if the selected material appears to be supported by multiple sources with reliable or reproduceable information?
  • Purpose -- can you determine if this material provides a well-rounded perspective on the topic, or is intended to support a position through showing only some of the information that would be important to study the topic in a balanced way? Is the purpose of the presented information for advocacy, criticism, debate, or the presentation of new findings or interpretations?





You should never trust the results that are returned from a general Google search, as many pages are created by people with little expertise and/or a hidden agenda. Wikipedia provides excellent overviews of topics, with pointers to source materials, but the perspective is not always academically accurate or balanced. Be sure to supplement this information with more reliable information from peer-reviewed resources such as those listed on our Facts/Definitions page.


SEARCHING FOR JOURNAL ARTICLES (research results and expert opinions):

Be careful if you perform advanced Google searches, as your results are based upon your previous search preferences, so results will be less comprehensive over time, and will tend to support your favorite topics/perspectives/purchasing behavior. In addition, Google will not provide all the full-text articles that are available to you through our multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete journal-article aggregator.

Google Scholar provides free searching of  a selection of the academic journal literature, with results providing more reliable peer-reviewed materials, but the results are not as comprehensive as those found in our subject specific journal indexes. In addition, Google Scholar will not provide all the full-text articles that are available to you through our multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete journal-article aggregator.

See a few images of the comparative domains of these search tools or a presentation about the limits of Google and the alternative search options.



If you do not find what you are looking for, consider contacting your subject librarian.



Copyright © 2013 | The Library at Saint Xavier University, 3700 W. 103rd St., Chicago, IL 60655 | Phone (773) 298-3352 | Fax (773) 298-5231 | Email: | MyMail | MySXU