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First, you develop and narrow down your topic -- the general idea of what you're going to be researching. From that, you need to develop your research question, i.e. what is the question you are attempting to answer by doing your research? This, in turn, will form the basis for your paper's thesis (your claim/argument/answer) which you'll explicitly state in your introduction.
Building Out a Topic (To Narrow Down Later)
Start off with your theme or initial topic idea.
Start writing down what comes to mind -- what do you already know about this central idea? Include specific examples, keywords, causes, impacts... throw everything at the wall now. We'll worry about what sticks later.
Don't stop with just one layer of ideas -- keep drilling deeper!
Once you get stuck, start doing some not-really-research. Hit up Google, Wikipedia, your textbook, and so to get some more bits and pieces to add in.
You may have started out thinking you knew what that central idea would involve, but now you can see how big (and how many possible directions for research) there really are!
Now that you can see what's going on, consider where your connections are strongest, or where you've made the most most, or what seems most interesting to you.
What are you asking yourself about those ideas? How do they relate to each other? What do you want to find out more of?
This view represents one possibility for a narrower topic. We might ask,
How does the psychology of confirmation bias contribute to the spread (or maybe creation) of fake news?
How can people recognize and overcome their personal biases?
Is fake news inherent to social media?
What has fake news looked liked through history, prior to the Internet?
... and another possibility.
Do limits on free speech apply to misinformation shared on private social networks?
Does (or should) the government have the power to regulate information shared on social media in order to protect the public interest?
Organize Your Brainstorm
Organize Your Thoughts with a Mind Map
Mind maps are a great tool to help you organize your thoughts and see new information or connections that you might not have previously been aware of. As you develop your mind map, narrow your topic down from a broad topic to a specific research question. You will use this research question, and the keywords you've identified on your mind map, to search the library databases for resources. As you utilize the research databases, continue to fill in information on your mind map to help you see if there are gaps in your research that you need to address.
Wikipedia lacks authority because anybody can edit it. Further, and even more importantly, it's an encyclopedia: it gives you a lot of information without analysis. For college-level research, this isn't the kind of source you should be drawing on. Encyclopedia Britannica and Webster's wouldn't make good sources, either.
Introduces advanced search strategies, including boolean operators.
Words in Academic Research
Information, in a variety of forms, that is used to develop your knowledge of the research topic.
Information that is fact-based and unbiased, produced by a reputable source, written by easily identified expert(s) in the field, current or timely for your topic and is supported by evidence.
Information submitted for journal publication. Prior to publication, articles are reviewed by experts or peers within the research field. This extended process assesses the quality, significance and validity of the manuscript before publication is approved.
Information produced by an expert for other experts to report on research or literature reviews on a topic. Scholarly articles published in journals while high in quality may or may not be peer-reviewed.