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FYI/FYH - Goss-Peirce

Research Process

Often, the first stage of the writing process is to select a topic of interest. The process of selecting a topic may seem simple, but an important step to developing a topic or research question is to know what information is already available on that topic or what other information is necessary to understand the topic. Thus, an informed topic statement or research question -- a refined version that takes existing information into account but does not expect you to be fully familiar with your sources yet -- requires a process of preliminary research.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you research and begin drafting an informed topic statement or informed research question. The following reminders and the two flowcharts will help direct your thinking throughout this stage of writing.


 Reminders about informed topic statements and research questions:

  1. Incorporate or point to the scholarly understandings and perspectives you found when exploring your topic
  2. Ensure that your topic statement allows the consideration of other points of view
  3. Double-check that your statement is appropriate for the scope of your assignment
  4. If writing a statement: Avoid writing a topic statement that leads to automatic agreement and would not require further discussion
  5. If writing a question: Avoid writing a question that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and would not require further explanation 

**Remember that your approach to your topic can, and probably should, evolve over time as you encounter new information that changes or challenges your perspective.**

Once you have a research goal in mind, it can help you select databases and research tools. The library offers a wide range of databases, and majority of the databases have specific content types or subjects, so it can be difficult to know where to start. In general, there are three main places we recommend going to in order to start your research:



OneSearch is the library's catalog database. The library collections include scholarly and popular materials in all of Augustana's academic disciplines and they have been carefully curated by the librarians, so OneSearch is usually a good place to start the research process. Using OneSearch, you will be able to locate not only the physical and virtual materials we offer, but you can also see sources from other schools in Illinois that you can order through I-Share.


Research Guides

The library offers tailored research guides for a majority of Augustana's academic disciplines and for some specific courses, just like the one you're currently using. If you would like some guidance or a single place to access the recommended databases for that subject, the research guides are the place to go. Each guide offers a curated list of databases related to the field of study, research tools, and advice to help you get started. A majority of the resources shared on the research guides can also be found in the A-Z listing, but occasionally there are individual tools that not cross-listed, so it can be helpful to take a peek at the research guide even if you already have a database in mind.


A-Z Resources

The final place to go to find databases and research tools is the A-Z Resources list, which is linked on the library homepage. The A-Z list includes all the library's subscribed databases in alphabetical order, so you can go straight to a specific database if you have one in mind, or you can take some time to explore what all we have to offer.

In general, when doing research, we recommend use a few different databases in order to expand and diversify your research results. For FYI, it may be more helpful to have a select list of places to go when starting research. To see our recommended multidisciplinary resources for your research in FYI, click on the "Library Resources & Tools" tab on the left-hand navigation bar. Of course, you are also welcome to explore the many other databases and tools we have to offer through the resources listed above.

Once you have selected a topic or research question, it is time to start searching. The search process can be frustrating at times, so it is important to remember to be patient and flexible! Start by choosing keywords that are connected to your topic/question, but often we need to have some creativity when choosing keywords as our search progresses. If you are having difficulty finding sources, try searching in another database or using different keywords. Here are some keyword tips and tricks that can help you narrow in on your topic:


Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words and symbols that we can use while searching to help us limit our search results more precisely.

The Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT can be used to combine two different keywords to make our search more specific.  We can imagine how these operators work with the following venn diagrams:

AND allows us to search for sources that will have both keyword subjects. For example, if we want an source about cats AND dogs, the search will filter out materials that are only about cats or dogs. This way, our search results will only include sources that are about both animals.

OR allows us to search for sources that will have at least one of the keywords chosen. This operator is often used when there are multiple spellings, names, or words that can be used to search for the same topic. For example, the search Theodor Seuss Geisel OR Dr Seuss will show search results about the famous children's author under both his birth name and pen name, which gives us more search results than if we search with only one of the names.

NOT allows us to narrow down our search results by excluding a related topic or sub-topic from our search. For example, the search Judy Garland NOT Wizard of Oz will limit our search results to materials that are about Judy Garland, but do not include the Wizard of Oz in their catalog information.


Subject Headings

If you are having difficulty finding sources with your original chosen keywords, it can be helpful to take a look at subject headings. Subject headings are standardized words or phrases that follow the Library of Congress' cataloging conventions in order to help make the source more findable in research databases. They also make it easier for researchers to find other materials with the same subject heading.

To find subject headings in OneSearch, first choose a source that fits what you are looking for or is on a similar topic. When you open the catalog entry, you should be able to see a list of blue words partway down the page in the "details" section.  Some of these subject headings may be more helpful than others, depending on your research goal.

There are two ways you can use these subject headings. The first is to simply incorporate them into your list of keywords and searches. The second is to click on one of them, which will then open a search for all the materials in the OneSearch catalog that use that same subject heading. Depending on the heading you choose, it may be helpful to modify that search or to use search filters to narrow back onto your specific search goal.

If you get stuck at any point, Kaitlyn and the other research librarians are always happy to help! Feel free to drop by the library, schedule an appointment, or send an email for additional help.

Often when we are doing research, we are looking for certain types of sources. We categorize materials in three different ways depending on how they share information.


Primary & Secondary Sources

The first way we often sort sources is by how they interact with the information they are presenting. Primary sources are written as a firsthand perspective. In a historical source, this would mean that the source would be presenting lived experiences; meanwhile, in a biology source, this would mean that the source is presenting observations or data gathered in the study. Secondary sources are materials that analyze or interpret primary sources. In history, this may be a source that summarizes an event and evaluates the factors and contexts; in biology, this could be a source that summarizes and collates several research studies. There is also a third level of sources when we categorize materials this way: tertiary sources, which are better known as reference materials. These sources provide short entries to introduce a concept or topic. Common reference sources are dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias.

For more information about primary & secondary sources and how to tell the difference, see the tutorial here.


Scholarly vs Popular Sources

A second way we sort sources is by how they share information, often in terms of their audiences and tone. Popular sources usually have a broader audience (often the general public), the purpose is to entertain readers or overview a subject, the design is usually more colorful in order to attract attention, and the language is general and less formal. Common examples of popular sources would be news articles, magazine articles, or social media posts, among others.

Scholarly sources, on the other hand, are usually intended for a specific audience of scholars and professionals in that field, the purpose is to publish new research and developments, the design will be more professional and plain, and the language will be more scholarly -- often using field-specific jargon and terminology. Common examples of scholarly sources would be journal articles and academic books.

You will often be asked to incorporate scholarly sources into your research while you are a student. There are many ways to ensure you are using scholarly sources, but the two main ways to do so would be to:

1. filter your search results (for example, in OneSearch, selecting "peer-reviewed journals") 

2. evaluate the source yourself, using the above descriptions and distinctions to guide your evaluation (for example, look at the design and language of a source to determine an intended audience, or look at the publisher to determine what materials they publish)



Material Type

A third way we generally sort sources is by  medium or format of the material. This is usually the easiest way to sort sources because we are often already familiar with different types of materials: books, journal articles, news articles, social media posts, films, images, etc. As a student, you may be asked to research a specific medium or format, which will likely impact the research database you choose to complete the research. The library offers several databases that specialize in a specific medium/format, but the general databases and our OneSearch function can all be filtered by resource type as well.

Once we have started to find sources, it is important to evaluate each one to make sure they are materials we can trust and that they fit your research goal. Even when you find materials with a library database, it is still important to evaluate your sources because the databases often include a mix of source types and perspectives, which may affect their appropriateness for your research purposes. Additionally, the databases may include sources that are historically important, but are outdated or disproven, which could affect the source's credibility for your research.

One way we can evaluate a resource is through the CRAAP test. CRAAP stands for:

C-Currency : Is this source up-to-date?

R-Relevance : Is this source relevant to my research goals?

A-Authority : What is the author's background? What is the publisher known for?

A-Accuracy : Is there information I can fact-check?

P-Purpose : What is the motivation behind this research?

To evaluate your sources, review each one in response to each of the letters in CRAAP. You do not have to have positive answers for each question in order for the source to still be useful for your research, but your overall assessment should help guide whether you feel like the source is trustworthy, credible, and relevant to your specific research purposes.

For each letter of the acronym, here are some additional questions we could ask ourselves as we take a closer look at a source:


  • When was the resource written/published? Is this current enough for the purpose of your research? 
  • Is this information up-to-date, or do other sources discredit or update the information given in the resource? If it is not up-to-date, is the information considered foundational to the topic or field of study? 


  • What is the overall tone of the resource? 
  • Are the language and terminology at an appropriate level for your research and understanding? Is the resource at the appropriate level (data, language, etc) for this project/paper?
  •  Does the resource meet your research needs and goals?


  • Who is the author/editor? What is their background and expertise? Do they have any potential conflicts of interest or biases in relation to this resource?
  • Who is the publisher/website/journal? What is their general reputation?  Who owns or funds the publisher/website/journal?
  • Who is the typical audience or purpose of this publication/website/journal?


  • Is there information you can fact-check? 
  • Are there in-text citations and a reference list? Is there an appropriate amount of references?  Are the citations current (to the publication) and from credible/reputable sources?
  •  Are sources and/or analyses provided for any data and figures included in the resource? 


  • What, if any, is the context of the resource?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this resource?


The Silent S

I often tell my students that after the CRAAP test comes the silent S -- the gaps and silences in the source. Example questions you can ask to evaluate the Silences include:

  • What perspectives, voices, and/or identities that have a stake in the topic are being left out of this discussion?
  • What, if any, information or context is missing?



The CRAAP(S) Test is a good way to start learning how to evaluate sources, but it is not the only way. Another way we can evaluate sources is through lateral reading. For more information about lateral reading, please visit the tutorial here.