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Speech 101: Research Process

Helpful Tips

Use quotation marks around phrases to search for that exact wording

  • Examples: "social media" "higher education" "traumatic brain injury"

Switch out your keywords for synonyms or other words that mean close to the same thing

  • Example: If one keyword is "teenagers," try "adolescents"

Check your spelling; not every database is good at guessing what you mean by a misspelled word 

Keep a list of all of the search words you use. Try the same words in different databases to find more information. 

Step 1: Write your Research Question

Once you have chosen a general topic, start thinking about what exactly it is that you want to know and write out a research question. This question will focus your topic and give you a starting point for your research. 

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Who is affected by this topic?
  • Where is this topic happening?
  • Why is this topic important?
  • What effects is this topic causing?
  • What is being done about this topic?
  • What are some sub-topics I should consider?


For instance, say I am interested in the stress levels of college students. What is causing those stress levels? Are they higher or lower than those of college students in the past? Is there a difference in who is affected by higher stress levels?

After thinking about this, I might write this research question: How does stress affect the academic achievement of college students?

I can change my topic and adjust my question as I do more research but this gives me a starting point. Keep referring back to this question, especially if you start to feel yourself getting overwhelmed or side-tracked. 

Step 2: Identify Keywords

Break your research statement down into its basic concepts. If you had to describe your topic to someone using just three words, what would those words be? Those are the keywords you will start with. 

For example, let's look at the above research question: "How does stress affect the academic achievement of college students?

In this case, my first three keywords would be "stress," "academic achievement," and "college students." 

Once you have those first keywords, write them down and make a list of synonyms of each word. Think about other ways to phrase those concepts and especially how researchers might talk about them. If you get stuck, chat with a librarian about keyword ideas. 

Step 3: Search Briggs Library Quick Search

The Briggs Library Quick Search on the library home page is a great place to start researching once you have chosen some search terms. In it you will find all of the physical books and journals the library owns in addition to many of our peer-reviewed articles, e-books, and other digital resources. 

Library quick search box

Once you have done an initial search, use the filters on the left-hand side of the page to narrow your results. You might want to limit the range of dates you are searching or select specific types of sources (i.e. scholarly articles, books, magazines, etc).

Screenshot of Search Results page

Step 4: Search Subject Databases

You have access to more resources than just those in the Library Quick Search, so do not stop there! Specific databases contain information and sources that have been chosen by experts to be included in that collection, which means some of your work has already been done for you. The list of all the databases the library subscribes to can be found here:

For more information on which databases to use, see the Recommended Resources page of this guide.

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