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Writing Research Papers Guide: Step 1: Get Started

This guide walks you through the process of writing a research paper.

What is this for?

These pages are intended to be a step-by-step guide to refer to while writing a research paper. For extra help, ask a librarian!
This step addresses the beginning stages of the process: Getting Organized, Keywords, and Topics.



  • KEY WORDS and/or SEARCH TERMS: Keep your terms simple but specific.  For example, instead of asking a question as you search, like "how are wind farms beneficial or detrimental to the environment?" try combining the terms "wind farms" and "environmental benefits" or "environmental hazards"
  • NARROW: If you are retrieving too many or too varied results, focus your search by adding terms, limiting terms to particular areas, or by limiting your searches using available online filters.  Some basic ways to narrow would be to search by specific years or date ranges (e.g.1999-2010), search by geographical location (e.g.United States), search by specific populations/types (e.g. young adults) or use a thesaurus to find different word options (e.g. wind turbine).

  • BROADEN:  If you are retrieving too few results, expand your search by removing terms, changing terms, or clarifying by linking terms together with AND, OR, NOT (e.g. "wind farms" and "environmental benefits" or "environmental hazards" , "wind farms" not "wind mills").  Also consider adding synonyms or similar terms to your search if the ones you are using aren’t very effective.
  • BE FLEXIBLE:  Above all, be flexible in your searching. If one term doesn’t work, try a different one. Approach your topic using as many search strategies as you can think of.
  • USE WHAT YOU HAVE/FIND: Allow the results you find to guide your research rather than trying to find the perfect results as you imagine them to be. If you get one good article, mine it for terms to find similar results.


  • Understand what you are looking for: Make sure you understand what your guidelines are for topics. Your instructor may give you some specific instructions to follow regarding your options.
  • Resources: The following links are a good place to look for topic selection:
  1. Times Topics - Search the New York Times archives for topics
  2. NPR - Research News - NPR has recent articles that involve researchable topic areas
  3. Pew Research Center -  Lots of research ideas, including data and analysis
  4. eLibrary Database - This database provides searchable research subjects topics
  5. Opposing Viewpoints Database - This database provides searchable research subjects and topics



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