The Research Cycle – Asking the Question

Once you have a general topic for your research, essay, or project, the next step is to develop the question you are going to ask (and answer).

But first, make sure you review the assignment instructions so that you know what is being asked of you. Look for key points that will help you choose an appropriate topic.

Then you may want to brainstorm. What are the different aspects of your topic and how do they connect to each other? A great way to do this is to draw a concept map!


Once you have your concept map, you can start to develop some questions. What are you most interested in? You will be spending a lot of time reading about this so you might as well be interested in it! Do you want to investigate the who, the why, the what, the where or the how? Try to choose a topic that is not too broad (to avoid having too many resources to sift through) or too narrow (to avoid not having enough resources to complete the requirements of your assignment).

You may find that you need to do some preliminary research before you can develop your question. That’s OK! Doing some general reading on the topic will help you learn about it, and decide what you want to write about.

Check out our blog posting on improving your topic!

The Research Cycle – Finding Information

Now you need to find information for that paper!  Where do you go?  The library should be your first place to go, not your last resort! Beryl Ivey Library has lots of resources for you to use when you are doing your research. You also have access to all that Western Libraries has to offer.

THERE IS A VERY IMPORTANT FIRST STEP! Before you start, you must check out our Research Guides! These guides make ‘finding information’ in your discipline so much less painful! The research guides will give you specific information about helpful resources in your subject area, including potential keywords, links to useful journals, and other reference materials.You can also check out the Research Guides at Western Libraries.

Boolean Operators are critical pieces to the information seeking process. In the databases, Boolean Operators can help retrieve articles specific to your question!! Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) are very powerful search features and will save you loads of time! To learn more about the effective use of Boolean, go to the CleverResearcher blog entry on Boolean.

We have yet MORE Search Tips!

  • If you want to search for an exact phrase or term, use quotation marks. This is really helpful if you are using Summon, or Google Scholar.
    e. “type 1 diabetes”
  • Truncation helps you to search for different forms of a word. Put an asterisk* on the end of a root word. This will retrieve all the words that include the letters before the asterisk.
    e. lead* will get you lead, leader, leaders, leadership, leading, etc.
  • Brackets tell a database to search for everything inside the brackets before moving on to the next word (just like BEDMAS in math). They are helpful to use if you have a lot of synonyms. If you are using brackets, read the blog posting on Boolean before proceeding.
    e (type 1 diabetes OR juvenile diabetes OR diabetes) AND (diet OR nutrition)

Don’t forget to stay organized!! You may want to try to organize your resources as you go – we recommend using programs like Zotero or Mendeley. These free reference manager programs make managing all your information much easier.
Check out the start-up guides for Zotero and Mendeley!

The Research Cycle – Evaluating Resources

So now you’ve found some articles, what do you do now? Read them and evaluate them! But you don’t need to read them from beginning to end. Check out our blog posting on how to read journal articles effectively and efficiently. You will need to evaluate each article to see if it will be useful for your topic. What is considered useful?:

  • Look through the preface, introduction, or abstract. Does it apply to your research? If it does, read more of the resource. If it doesn’t, stop and move on to another source.
  • Where or by whom was it published? Is it a scholarly journal article, from a reputable publisher, or an opinion piece? Most professors will ask for peer-reviewed sources, meaning the article or book has gone under some kind of scholarly review.
  • Who is the intended audience? What is the level of information, and what assumptions is the author making about you, the reader?
  • Is it comprehensive? Does it cover your topic in enough detail?
  • Look at the references.  Does it cite other scholarly sources? You can also use references to find more useful resources for your topic.
  • Is there any bias? Is it clear that the author is writing from a particular point of view, or are they neutral?
  • How accurate is the resource? Does it match the other things you have read?
  • How timely is the resource? Was it written two years ago, or thirty years ago? For some topics, information becomes dated quickly (i.e. medical science), but for others, it can last (i.e. history).
  • Is the author credible? What do you know about them? if it is an aorganization, what can you find out about it?
  • Are the points or arguments in the article backed up with appropriate evidence?

We recommend taking notes when you are evaluating and going through your resources, so that you remember the important points.  You can organize by subheading, write a working outline, or use colour coding. Check out our blog posting on writing notes.

The Research Cycle – Writing


Writing an essay or research paper can be hard work! The resources below can help you with your writing:

  1. Visit the Writing Centre at Brescia
  2. The OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab has lots of writing resources for you to use. You can find out about subject-specific writing, writing mechanics, grammar, and more
  3. Check out Western’s Writing Support Centre Online Writing Resources. They have lots of writing support handouts for you to use


Plagiarism is something that comes up a lot at university (it’s important – never to do it!) and it can be a scary word if you don’t understand it.  Just what do we mean by plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using the work, words, or ideas of someone else without acknowledging them. It can be intentional, or unintentional. This is why we talk about citing so much. When you use an idea from another source in your paper, use a quote, or reprint a picture, you need to state where you got it from. If you use the idea of somebody else, but put it in your own words, you are paraphrasing. If you use the exact words from another source, you are quoting.

The sites below have lots of information about plagiarism, and how to avoid it. Visit them before you submit your assignment.

  • Avoiding Plagiarism – OWL @ Purdue — defines plagiarism, lists examples and gives a “Safe Practices” list
  • — A website dedicated to all aspects of plagiarism: definitions, FAQ, help with citing, and a plagiarism checker to use before you hand in your assignments.

When you are writing, you will need to cite your sources. Beryl Ivey Library has the citation information you need!

The Research Cycle – Citing your sources

Citing is an important part of the research process – you need to give credit to the authors of the sources you used! Keeping track of your articles can be messy. We suggest you consider using a reference manager program to manage your citations. Free examples include Zotero or Mendeley. Check out the help sheets to get started!

Zotero           Medeley

Citation Styles

There are many different citation styles at Brescia, and it is likely that your professor will tell you which one you should use for your assignment. We have made Citation Guides to all the citation styles used at Brescia.

Some journals will use title abbreviations. To learn interpreting or creating these, check out our Acronyms and Abbreviations page or our blog posting on journal abbreviations

Don’t forget – if you have questions about citations, ask a library staff member – we’re here to help!

Reading Journal Articles

submitted by weekend librarian Marg Baltzer

I have to read all these journal articles for my paper! How will I get through all them? What is the point of all those details?

Reading journal articles is a learned skill. You do not read a journal article like you would a book or a magazine article. Each section has a specific purpose and it is important to know the purpose of each before you embark on this new adventure!

The other thing to keep in mind while you are reading these articles is to view the content of the article as a means of dialogue between experts in the field. The author introduces the reader to what research has already been done in the past (and credits those researchers!); the author then introduces the reader to his/her research topic and explains why and how it was completed. The results of the research are presented and then these results are integrated into the context of previous research. The author then explains why these results are important and presents possible topics for further research. With this in mind, it is easier to understand the purpose and importance of this type of publication. Each article is one person/group’s voice in a bigger conversation.

The following links and resources will illustrate those differences between the different sections of the research article and why each is important.

How to Read a Scholarly Journal Article

Understanding Scholarly Journal Articles

In the Sciences… In the Humanities…
How to read a scientific paper

How to read and interpret different kinds of research articles

Simple method for evaluating clinical research

The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a
Journal-Style Scientific Paper


How to read a journal article

How to read a journal

Reading…for History: A Guide for College Students (in the left column there are 2 links for reading primary and secondary sources)