1 The Research Process

The basic steps of the research process

There are several steps in the research process.  Click on the hot spots on each of the steps in the diagram below for more details about the process.


(Santos, n.d.).

Research is an iterative process

spiral arrow Research is ongoing and never ending.  Even when it looks like we have all the answers, there are still aspects and truths to be discovered.  Therefore, research is an iterative process – it is repeated and expanded as we learn more and ask further related questions.

Take for example, the research around eggs and cholesterol illustrated in this timeline:
(McNamara, 2015).


As this example demonstrates, the iterative process of revisiting previous research and asking more questions can lead to not only new discoveries, but sometimes even a completely new understanding of the research subject.

The research process for school assignments is iterative as well!

Depending on your assignment, you might be given a topic to explore or be asked to choose your own.

Once you know your focus, doing some background research (such as defining terms, checking encyclopedia articles, and brainstorming) will help you to create a research question which will help you to center and focus your research.


Research question starters: "should", "to what extent", "at what point"
(These are some good starting phrases for research questions you create!)

After your research question has been crafted, you are ready to find some sourcesUse search strategies (such as searching using keywords and Boolean Operators like AND/OR) to find credible, authoritative sources.


If you would like to learn more about using effective search strategies, check out these quick interactive tutorials on the subject.

Reading and analyzing the sources you’ve found quite often leads to further exploration of the topic, or perhaps even narrowing or expanding the focus of the research question.  With these alterations, it can be necessary to find and analyze further sources.

student research iteration cycle of questions, searching, and reading
(It’s natural and normal to adjust your research question and seek additional research.)

As you can see, this process is iterative as the research builds and we dive deeper into the topic and research questions.  You might repeat this process several times before drawing conclusions and finalizing your research assignment.

And of course, remember to proofread your writing and your citations too!

Research and references

Want to see the iterative process in action? The next time you select a research source, check out the reference list.  The sources in the reference list demonstrate the iterative process. Past research is examined and used to further future research and ask further questions.  It is possible to trace the history of a research question by using the reference list to track older sources. And you can also use tools such as Google Scholar to see who has cited an article in more recent works too.

titles of articles published in 2001, 2010, and 2021.
An example of the iterative and historical relationships between articles. Past research helps to inform current and future research, allowing us to discover and learn more about any topic explored!


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