There are a few common problems that can arise in the early stages of research. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of resources available on your topic, or maybe you do a search only to end up with no results.

Some of this initial trepidation can be solved by a little pre-planning, or what I like to call “pre-search.” You’ll often come back to this step as you go through the research process, and it involves a few initial steps…


  1. What questions do you have?
    Make a list of the questions you need to answer before you can write your assignment.  In the beginning, you’ll find this information in the assignment instructions your professor provided. They might be simple questions like “what is this topic about?” or “what did we learn about it in class so far?” Later, your questions will likely develop after doing some reading.                                                          –  
  2. What information do you need?
    After figuring out what questions you need to answer, ask yourself: what information would help you answer these questions?  Before you start researching, this could include definitions of words in your assignment topic, or reviews of relevant themes from your lecture notes.  As you prepare to write your assignment, you might need to find some more specific examples in order to support your argument better.
  3. Where will you find this information?
    Knowing where to find different kinds of information takes practice.  If you’re totally unsure, don’t hesitate to ask a library staff person.  But here are some examples to get you started:

    • Definitions: check your textbook, encyclopedias on your topic, or dictionaries
    • Background information: again, check your textbook, check encyclopedias, or check general books on your topic
    • General information: for summaries on your topic and that kind of thing, check books and literature reviews (a type of journal article)
    • Specific information/current research: check journal articles.  Books would work, too.

Other resource types you can consider, especially when rounding out your argument include: primary sources (i.e. newspaper articles, interviews, speeches, letters); reliable websites; and government information.

  1. What keywords can you come up with to describe your topic?
    Come up with a list of words and synonyms for the words in your topic, to type into Summon, or into subject databases and the library catalogue while you research.  Every subject at Brescia has a corresponding research guide that comes with its own list of keywords (e.g. here’s the one for French, and here’s the one for Leadership).

Don’t forget: computers aren’t very smart and can’t predict your topic.  It’s really important, then, to type in exactly what you’re looking for – otherwise you’ll be likely to get garbage results.

  1. If you’re doing journal research, did Summon find enough good content? If not, what databases should you try?
    Again, this takes practice, but the library staff has helped with this task. Check the Research Guides webpage on Brescia’s website, or the Research Guide webpages on Western Libraries’ website.

Taking a few minutes to do some planning will honestly save you time in the long run.  Organizing your research before you start also helps to avoid confusion – and point out where you may have gone astray.