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This page walks you through the basic steps of research. Keep in mind that the research process is actually quite messy, and you might find yourself jumping back and forth between the steps listed here. These steps are meant to orient you to the research process, but you do not necessarily have to follow this exact order:

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Consult reference sources
  3. Grab some books
  4. Search for articles
  5. Collect, read, evaluate, and write what you have learned
  6. Cite your sources

Step 1: Choose a topic

When choosing a topic, keep the following points in mind:

  1. Choose a topic that ACTUALLY interests you.
  2. Your topic is not set in stone. Once you start doing some initial research on your topic, you will probably decide to tweak it a bit.
  3. Pick a topic that is manageable. If your topic is too broad, it will be hard to condense it all into one university paper. But if your topic is too narrow, you may have a hard time finding enough scholarly research for your paper.

Or, watch this incredibly useful video from North Carolina State University Library on choosing a topic:

Step 2: Consult reference sources

When you first get started on a research project, you might not have very much prior knowledge of your topic. In that case, it's a great idea to start with some background information. The most heavily-used reference source in the world is Wikipedia, but as a student you also have access to many other excellent scholarly reference sources.

Jump to the "Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and more" page of this guide.

Step 3: Grab some books

Time to get down to it! Books will help you get an even better handle on your topic. Books provide more in-depth information than reference sources, but are often much better for background information than journal articles. Keep the following in mind:

  1. Start by registering your Dal card as your library card. Fill out your registration form and bring it to the service desk at the Killam Library, or register online using our online form (this will take about 24 hours to process).
  2. Use the Novanet library catalogue to search for books on your topic.
  3. You can access ebooks immediately online; if you find a print book that interests you, write down the call number and visit the stacks!
  4. Check out this quick video: How to read a call number in 90 seconds
  5. Remember that in most cases you won't need to read the whole book!
  6. You may borrow print books for 3 weeks, and renew them twice. To renew books online, start here. Click "Guest," at the top right of the screen, and then "My library card." Log in with your barcode and password. You should see an overview of the books you have checked out, and an option to renew. You can also check out this quick video tutorial on renewing books.  

Jump to the "Find books" page of this guide.

Step 4: Search for articles

Scholarly journals are specialized journals that publish new research on specialized topics. They are written FOR academics, researchers, and students to keep them aware of new developments in the field. They are written, for the most part, BY academics and researchers who are actively involved with the field of study. You can find scholarly articles in databases that the library subscribes to. Make sure to search in subject-specific databases (such as a history database), as well as multidisciplinary databases that include a wider scope of material.

Jump to the "Find journal articles" page of this guide.

Or, check out this great video from Western Libraries:

Step 5: Collect, read, evaluate, and write what you have learned

Take very careful notes as you read your sources! This will help you trace themes and develop an argument. Check out the following two videos on writing a research paper, and make an appointment at the Dalhousie Writing Centre if you would like assistance with your writing.

Step 6: Cite your sources

Very important! When you use somebody else's words or ideas in your academic papers, you must to give credit to the original source. This is one of the reasons why keeping good notes is so important to the research process.

Jump to the MLA Citation page of this guide.