African American Studies Library Resources

Collections, services, and assistance for African American Studies and interdisciplinary students and faculty

Getting Started

What is research? 

If you're new to college, you may be thinking to yourself "writing a term paper doesn't really count as research." Don't sell yourself short! There are many ways of doing research. By writing term papers, you ARE engaging in the research process and scholarly discourse. 

You might also be thinking to yourself "I've written papers before, but I've never really done much research. I don't really know where to begin." And that is TOTALLY OKAY! You are learning something new along with the rest of your peers, and your librarians are here to help you learn how to become a better researcher. 

This page is set up to give you step-by-step guidance on how to build a research project from the ground up. 

Research Building Blocks
Because even Drake started from the bottom. 

Graphic: Research building blocks


Starting a research project can sometimes feel overwhelming. By breaking your research down into different phases, you can better organize your work and make the process more manageable. Let's take a look at the different phases. 


Phase 1: Topic Development & Research Planning

This is the most important phase because it creates the foundation for the rest of your work. However, it can be tempting to skip this step and jump straight into looking for sources, making a thesis statement, or even writing your paper. When you take a little time to create a well-defined topic, scope, and research questions, you are able to save time and stress when later on when searching for sources. Your research will also be stronger and richer because you will avoid confirmation bias by starting with questions instead of assumptions.  

Steps to take in Phase 1: 

1. Identify your topic 
2. Gather background information and begin to build knowledge 
3. Define the scope of your research 
4. Formulate research questions 

What does it mean to define the scope of my research? 
The scope of your research is the limitations you place on your project, or the focus you set for yourself. 
This is a really helpful step if your professor tells you that your topic is too broad or your mind is overflowing with ideas. 
Your goal is to complete your assignment, which means you have to set limitations. 
So, save some of those brilliant ideas for a future project!

How to define your scope 
Ask yourself these questions about your topic:

Who: What individuals or communities are involved in my topic:
What: What are the most important / significant actions, events, things you want to address:
When: What time period is your research relevant to?
Where: What geographic geographical area or regions do I want to focus on?

Sample Topic and Scope:
Topic: African Americans and the making of the West
Who: Black cowboys, Nat Love, John Ware
What: Cattle drives, war service, rodeo
When: Reconstruction and Jim crow eras
Where: American West 


What is a research question?
A research question is a question that you set out to answer through your research. 
It can be very helpful to create multiple quuestions, which formulate the different aspects of your topic. 
You can do this by asking a main question or hypothesis question, followed by a series of sub-questions that dig deeper
 into your topic. 

How do I write a research question?  
A social science research question is typically an open-ended question (not a yes/no question), and it is a question 
that is answerable. Here are some examples: 

 Bad question: 
 Are Black students motivated to apply to UF because of the University's Top 5 ranking? 

This question has several issues: First, it is a yes/no question that doesn't allow you to investigate or delve further. 
Secondly, it is very challenging to understand someone's motivations, let alone the motivations of an entire group of 
people. You would likely struggle to find a source that provides any information to help you answer this question unless 
you conducted your own survey. Lastly, the question is biased in that it assumes top 5 status is or may be a motivating 

 Better Question:
 What factors do Black undergraduate students consider when applying to PWis? 

This question is an improved version of the previous example. It is open-ended and it eliminates the bias. 
The phrasing of the question makes it more answerable because it is more likely that there is an existing scholarly 
publication or study on this topic. 


Phase 2: Gathering Information & Building Knowledge

If you followed in the stops in Phase 1, you should be well on your way to building a great research project. In Phase 2, the objective is to find and evaluate sources that you will want to use in your project. Your research questions will provide you will a preliminary word bank of terms to use. you can also create a word bank of synonyms or related terms to search. As you begin to discover sources, you will want to evaluate the quality and relevancy of the material. If a source doesn't help you answer your research questions, you may want to consider other options. 

Steps to take in Phase 2: 

1. Identify search terms or phrases 
2. Collect sources and build knowledge 
3. Evaluate sources 

How many sources do I need? 
At a minimum, you will need at least one source to help you answer each research question. 
If you don't have at least one source for each question, keep searching. You aren't ready to 
begin writing. 

How do I evaluate a source? 
Interrogate the source, the author, and the publisher. Ask yourself these questions:  

- Is the journal peer-reviewed or refereed? You can typically find this information by going 
to the journal's website on an "about" page. 

- What is the author(s) scholarly record? Is the author an expert in this field? 

- For books, what is the publishing company and what types of materials do they produce? 
(e.g. scholarly, popular reading, self-publish, etc.)

- What the research funded by an organization, corporation, or government entity? 

- For news or web sources, look at the about page to determine the credibility of the source. 
Is it trustworthy? Search for online news sources on Media Bias / Fact Check. 
Phase 3: Information Analysis & Knowledge Production

Now that you've asked your research questions and you've found and read your sources, you should be ready to answer your research questions, organize your ideas, and begin writing. The answers to your research question will now form the basis of your paper. By answering your hypothesis and sub-questions, you've created your thesis and a series of claims, which you can support with evidence from sources. You have all the tools you need! Just claim it, explain it, and cite it! 

Steps to take in Phase 3
  1. Analyze & Interpret sources 
  2. Answer your research questions 
  3. Formulate a thesis 
  4. Report findings & conclusion

For questions on source integration, writing, project management, citation, check out the FAQ tab

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