Conducting Research

This course covers the basics of performing research, from selecting a topic to proofreading a paper. It includes a tutorial on performing a search in ProQuest, as well as resources such as contact information for the St. John's University reference librarians and information on various citation styles. 

Selecting a topic

What is the assignment?

The first thing to consider is the guidelines provided by your instructor. For example, a professor might request that you write about an issue facing Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This lets you know that your paper should be about the Oglala Lakota people as opposed to another tribe, and that it should be centered around one primary concern facing the tribe. 

What interests you about this topic?

It is important to choose a topic that you want to learn more about because this will make the research process more enjoyable. Using the Pine Ridge example, there are many issues facing the Oglala Lakota people. If a student were interested in information literacy, they might choose to do research on education and access issues on the reservation. If they were interested in health concerns, they might choose to focus on alcoholism fueled by the easy access to liquor in White Clay, Nebraska.

Drafting a thesis statement

Now that you have an idea of the topic you would like to focus on, it is helpful to begin drafting a thesis statement. This will aid you in coming up with search terms to use in your initial search, as well as keep your focus narrowed on the specific subject at hand. Referring back to your thesis as you move through your research will help insure you do not waste your time reading through materials that are not relevant to your topic. 

Performing initial research

Why is this necessary?

Performing initial research prior to committing to a research topic is an important step in the research process. If a topic is too broad, it will be difficult to provide the paper with a focus and there will be too many sources for a student to read through. If a topic is too narrow, there will be a scarcity of research available to back up any claims made within the paper. An initial search will reveal whether the initial search parameters are too broad or too narrow.

How do I perform a search?

To find out more about which databases to use or how to search the library catalog, speak with a reference librarian. They may be found at the third floor service desk in St. Augustine Hall, reached by telephone at 718-990-6727, or contacted via Ask Us located on the library's website

Selecting materials

What types of sources do you need?

Did your professor specify that you need to use only peer-reviewed journal articles or books? Are you allowed to use other sources such as newspaper or magazine articles? Do you need primary sources? These are factors that must be taken into consideration when selecting which materials will be included in your research paper. There are different databases that may be used to find various types of sources; for any questions about which is most appropriate for your needs, contact a reference librarian. 

Are these sources reliable?

Peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and primary source materials are generally reliable. However, newspaper and magazine articles, as well as blog posts and other informal websites, should be scrutinized carefully before including them in a paper. Many newspapers are considered trustworthy sources, but in an era of fake news, not all websites purporting to be accurate can be considered such. Always check the source of the information, the author, the date of the article, and whether or not the same information has been reported anywhere else. 

Taking and organizing notes

What do you do now that you have sources selected?

While reading through your sources, take notes on important points that you would like to mention in your paper, make note of any direct quotes you may wish to use, and be sure to keep track of which sources your notes are on and what pages the quotes come from. This information, as well as author, title, publisher, and year of publication, will be important when creating your references page.

How do I organize my notes?

It can often be helpful to separate notes based on different facets of the topic you are discussing. For example, when writing about alcoholism in White Clay, Nebraska, one might have information on the reasons behind this alcoholism, why liquor is so accessible in this town, and measures that have been proposed to eliminate this problem. Creating these headings and placing relevant notes beneath them can serve as a partially fleshed out outline, which will greatly aid the process of writing the paper. 

Writing your paper


Now that you have your notes organized under various headings, it is time to create a draft of your paper. State your arguments using the resources you have gathered to support what you are writing. You may also choose to refute a source's claims, but be sure to back this up with evidence from other resources. Since this is just a draft, it does not need to be perfect. 


Once you have an initial draft of your paper, it is time to read through it again and clean up any sentences that may not make sense, correct any grammatical and spelling errors, and examine the overall structure of your work. If your professor offers to review drafts of your work, you may wish to take advantage of this opportunity and include the professor's suggested changes in your final paper. 


Citing your sources

It is extremely important to acknowledge where you have found the information you are using to support your claims. Depending on the citation style required by your professor, you should include either parenthetical citations or footnotes within the body of your essay. All works should also include a references page with all sources listed alphabetically by author last name. 

For information on the different citation styles, see the content in this LibGuide

Practice Questions: Humanities

Which of the following thesis statements are neither too broad nor too narrow?

  • Compare and contrast Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift) and Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe). How did the intent of these two authors differ despite their similar subject matter?
  • Discuss the impact Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) had on the sonnet form.
  • Discuss the influence the ancient Greeks and Romans had on current society.
  • The diet of the Long Island Massapequa tribe from the period of 1650 to 1675, as influenced by the Dutch traders settling in the area.

Practice Questions: Science

Which of the following statements are neither too broad nor too narrow?

  • Discuss the influence nanotechnology has had on modern science.
  • The threats Vitamin C can pose under certain conditions, such as the aftermath of cardiac surgery.
  • The social and health benefits that walking holds for recent mothers and their children.
  • What are the effects of a vegan and vegetarian diet on the mental and physical health of its adherents?

Practice Questions: Social Science

Which of the following statements are neither too broad nor too narrow?

  • Although the Holocaust is often associated with people of Jewish faith, it also had severe consequences for other groups, particularly Polish Catholics. Discuss this group of people and the reason they became a target.
  • What effect did the Salem Witch Trials have on the mental health of women living in New England in 1692?
  • What was the impact of public access television on members of subcultures (such as drag queens) from 1980 to 1985?
  • Discuss the social, religious, and cultural impact of the loss of the Black Hills (Paha Sapa) on the Lakota tribe of South Dakota.