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WSU 102 First-Year Seminar in Cross-Cultural Communication

Getting started with research

You and several other group members have been assigned a research project.  Where do you begin?  How do you begin?  How does one make conducting research as easy, and perhaps more importantly as unintimidating as possible?  How does one proceed methodically, and avoid a scattershot approach to researching?

If you've wrestled with these questions or others like them, you're not alone.  Unlike typing words into Google and finding information of varying quality, conducting research is not a process that is immediately intuitive -- most students have to learn how to understand, get used to, and then conduct university-level research.  The good news is that there is a methodological approach to conducting research at this level, and that this approach can be learned and then replicated across every course you take.  Furthermore, learning how to research helps you understand how to judge the quality of the information you find, and helps get you more authoritative resources than Google or other free Web search engines typically offer.

The tabs to the left help you understand the research process, and understand how the timeline of when information is published affects its value in informing your own research.  They offer assistance in developing a research topic (and honing it into a research question if that is what your coursework asks you to do), identifying search terms based upon that topic, and then direction in selecting search tools to use in conducting your research.

The research process

The Research Process

The graphic to the left lists the different stages of the research process.  "Research" is a concept with a broad range of definitions.  This graphic presupposes an active component, where a researcher does original work in the field (steps 4 and 5).  Particularly at the undergraduate level, not all coursework involves such a component -- much of your coursework will ask you to review the literature on your topic, and then discuss, interpret, and add your own thoughts to this material.  Coursework of this nature may be considered "research" too, and the graphic can accommodate this form of research in addition to research with an active component.  When this happens, omit steps 4 and 5, and instead proceed from step 3 to step 6.

Proceeding step-by-step through each yields the following structure:

  1. Research topics are often alternately described as research problems -- you, the researcher, perceive a gap, discrepancy, or unanswered question in the existing knowledge within your field of study.  Your first task is to define this issue, and why addressing it is worthy of study.  The identifying a topic page linked to the left can help you with this process.
  2. Review the literature -- what have other researchers in the field written on this topic or research question?  How does your idea or question fit into that literature?  The identifying search terms, finding background information, and books, ebooks, and articles pages linked to the left can help you with this process.
  3. Formulate a hypothesis -- based upon your current knowledge, what do you anticipate you will discover by conducting your research?
  4. (For active research projects) How do you want to select and measure variables that will provide data or evidence to address your topic or question?  What population will you measure?  What tool(s) or forums will you use, such as surveys or focus groups?
  5. (For active research projects) Conduct your research!
  6. Having assembled and reviewed a body of literature on your topic, and, if applicable, conducted your active research, what are your findings?  Do your findings uphold your hypothesis?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
  7. What key findings did your analysis yield?  How will you let the broader scholarly community know what you found?  Paper?  Presentation?  Poster?  What new questions do your findings yield, that either you or other researchers can address (thereby renewing the research process)?

The publishing timeline

Publishing timeline graphic


Also referred to as the publishing cycle or the information lifecycle, this timeline highlights the different types of media that will report on an event in the different timeframes after the event happens.  The elapsed time between an event and the media reporting it has an effect on the type of content and level of analysis that will be present in the reporting documents. 

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