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Research Process

Determining Information Need

When starting research for an assignment, your instructor usually says you need a certain number of sources on your topic, will tell you a page length, and will tell you what types of sources you will need to use. These sources might include books, ebooks, periodical articles, media, and websites. Note: a periodical is something that is published periodically such as a newspaper, a magazine, or a scholarly journal.

When starting research on your topic, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How much information do I need?

  • What kind of information do I need? (background information, statistics, a definition, research studies, opinions ...)

  • How current does the information need to be? Or do you need historical information? (Bear in mind that currency is often more critical in some areas, such as medicine or computer science, than it is in other areas such as poetry or philosophy.)

  • Do you need scholarly information or will non-scholarly information suffice?

  • Do you need primary sources or secondary sources or both?

  • Do you need to use a variety of information formats? (e.g., books, articles, Web sites)

You will be able to answer these questions based on instructions given to you by your instructor and based on your topic.

Finding Tools

Once you know what sources you need, you need to know what tools to use to find them. Depending on the format (book, article, website), your finding tools will vary. Finding tools point or lead you to an information source. Common finding tools include a library's online catalog, a library's electronic databases, and Internet search engines such as Google. The following chart outlines types of information sources commonly found in libraries and online, along with their finding tools:

Type of Information Source                  

Finding Tool

Books (print)

Online catalogs


Online catalogs; electronic databases; search engines

Periodical articles

Electronic databases

Media (CD, VHS, DVD)

Online catalogs

Streaming Media (online)

Online catalogs or search engines


Search engines