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The Research Process: Research Defined


Library research involves locating, analyzing, and synthesizing existing (secondary) research and/or primary source material into an original paper. Library research is an integral part of all research endeavors, though it can also stand on its own as a  literature review, meta-analysis, or systematic review.

Research methods, refers to original (primary) empirical quantitative or qualitative data collection through a descriptive (e.g, survey, case study), experimental, semi-experimental (e.g., field or quasi-experimental design), or study (e.g., proof of concept, pilot study) method.

This guide will discuss the process of library research.


True research at its best aspires to explore a question that has not yet been asked, to offer fresh insight, or to advance the conversation/knowledge on a subject further.

There are different types of papers requiring research: argumentative and analytical.  Not all research papers are intended to argue for a position, controversial or otherwise. The purpose may be to analyze an issue and convey your evaluation to the reader. Generally though, secondary research involves a debatable topic, applying meaning, and arguing* for a claim or for the validity of your analysis.

Even if you are a novice researcher, envision your research as a contribution to, and situated within, the larger body of scholarship on a topic. It is about questions, interpretation, and dialog. Particularly, when considering complex, contested, negotiated topics research is about nuance. If there was one clear solution to a problem there would be no need for further research. A successful research paper need not tackle a completely new problem or question, however it should build upon existing knowledge and communicate your unique voice.

Locating information, identifying factual data, and summarizing are certainly part of the larger process of research. But, looking up the answer to a question you know exists is more searching than researching. A research paper does not just relay information, it offers an interpretation and takes a position. It makes a claim for what the information means, why it is significant, and why it has consequences that matter for the reader.


*Argument in this sense does not mean argumentative. In academic writing, your argument is your claim and interpretation...your explanation of why your thesis has merit. However, that must be logically argued for with credible, verifiable evidence as substantiation. It's not about coercing readers into your way of thinking, but persuading them to re-consider based on the eloquence of your exposition and the quality of your evidence.