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3.4: Research Process

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    The Stages of Research

    Later on in this chapter we will walk you through the steps of starting a research project. The first steps are choosing and then narrowing a topic, writing research questions, then refining your questions. Then the next steps are searching for articles, reading articles while finding citations, then writing a paper while incorporating those sources. You might imagine that you are expected to complete these steps separately, one at a time, in that order, as shown in Figure 3.4.1.

    a series of seven arrows pointing right, showing research writing steps as linear
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Steps of the research process in a straight line" by Jenny Yap is marked with CC BY NC 4.0.

    Many people think that when you complete a research project you must follow those steps in an exact order, but writing is often not so simple. For example, you may not know what topic you want to write about, so you might start with searching and reading articles as your first step.

    When Lily got her research paper assignment, she had no idea what to write about. Her professor suggested reading a newspaper like the The New York Times to see if any topics seemed interesting to her. Lily found an article talking about Nikole Hannah-Jones, a famous journalist who was denied tenure at the University of North Carolina. Lily was interested in this topic because she read that Hannah-Jones’ research interests, which focus on the contributions of African Americans and the consequences of slavery, were controversial to the university’s board of trustees. Many believed that Hannah-Jones was being unfairly discriminated against because she was a Black woman. This made Lily curious about the experiences of other professors of color. Maybe she could write a research paper about that?

    Research as a Process

    If you are doing research correctly, you approach your topic with an open mind and try to find an answer to something you are curious about. This is why the research process doesn’t always follow steps in a certain order. Some people prefer to read and write first, before they do research. Sometimes even if you have a thesis in mind, you might change your original point of view based on new information, or you might revise your topic slightly. Even professional researchers will change their minds midway through a project if they find new information or if they don’t find the specific information they were looking for.

    It’s important to do research with an open mind--to explore new ideas and then form opinions based on these new ideas. Research is an iterative process, which means your thinking should always be changing and your topic should continually be refined and improved upon, the more you read, write, and think about it. Research is also a recursive process, which means you might go back and forth multiple times between writing, thinking, reading, and researching. If you think about the word “research,” the prefix “re” means again. Research means to search again.

    Figure 3.4.2 below demonstrates the messiness of a research project.

    circle with the steps of research from choosing a topic to writing a paper with arrows going forwards and backwards
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): "Research process as a messy circle" by Jenny Yap is marked with CC BY NC 4.0.

    Looking at a research process

    Let's look at how Lily's topic changed over time:

    Lily was interested in doing more research about the importance of professors of color for community colleges in California. After searching, she wasn’t able to find anything about that topic, so she broadened her topic to include all kinds of colleges in all of the United States. Luckily she hadn’t started writing her essay yet because if she had, she would have had to start all over. She decided to research with an open mind and to not decide on a specific focus before she had done some reading.

    Apply this!

    Think about the last writing assignment you completed that you were proud of. Draw a picture of your writing process. Does it look more like a straight line or a messy circle? What are some advantages of writing in a messy circle?

    Licenses and Attributions

    Authored by Jenny Yap, Berkeley City College. License: CC BY NC.

    This page titled 3.4: Research Process is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gabriel Winer & Elizabeth Wadell (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .

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