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WRIT 2100: Delve Deeper: Research Methods in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences: The Research Process

Conceptualizing Research: Seven Steps

Identify Your Initial Research Topic

Pose your topic as a question

Starting Points: Use Reference Sources for Background and Context on a Subject

Find articles that summarize the topic, explain key concepts, define terminology and much more

Find Books

Find items held at Cornell (books, journals, and everything else we own)

Find Articles

Find articles, essays, book chapters and monographs

Requesting items not available at Cornell

BorrowDirect and Interlibrary Loan

Evaluate your sources

Some tips on how to evaluate the sources you've found

Cite your sources

Guides and Resources for preparing your bibliography

Getting Help

Ask a Librarian!

Subject vs Keyword

subject terms= fewer hits & better

keywords= more hits & sometimes worse

A keyword means find the word anywhere in the record -- title, author, notes, description, publisher, etc. (NOT the full text of the book or article)

A subject term is human-made and is designed to help you to other materials of similar topics

What's "on" the web?

Free content on the internet is only the tip of an iceberg. A vast amount of content resides behind paywalls, and library subscriptions help to provide access to this content.

Know what you are searching

Use all the tools!


The best research uses everything, all the tools, and the best tool for the task.

But not all tools are equal. Google and Wikipedia have their uses, but when it comes to scholarly research, rely on restricted tools/resources which are superior, have more content, and are free to Cornellians.

Open to the World Tools

  • Google
  • Google Scholar/Google Books
  • Wikipedia
  • websites

Restricted/Subscription/Academic Tools

  • Library databases
  • Books/HathiTrust
  • Online & print scholarly encyclopedias
  • Newspaper databases & archives
  • Journals (online & print)

There is no uberdatabase

There is no one place that you can find everything. Where you look depends on the stage of your research and other factors.


  • what is being searched
  • how it is being searched

Flow of Sources

flowchart of sources for different stages of research

First, select a topic. This may become more focused as you do research. Then get background information from general websites, Wikipedia, and subject encyclopedias. Next, start to narrow your research focus by looking at books, chapters in edited books, and articles from magazines, newspapers, and journals. Finally, get more specific by looking at scholarly research articles and conference proceedings, and using databases and Google Scholar.

General Websites can be helpful for argumentative papers and for statistics (especially .gov and .org sites). Check statistics against two other sources.

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