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ENGL 414: Beginning a research project

Research Writing

Getting Started

On this page, you'll find information that will help you take your first steps toward completing a research project. The information here includes: 

  • Video interviews of UAA faculty who answer some important questions about how they do their research and what they have learned over the years about the research process.
  • A discussion of the value of turning your research topic into a working research question.
  • Tips on how to ask for support from a reference librarian early in your project. 

The Importance of Asking Questions about Your Topic

One of the best ways to move toward conducting more autonomous research is to shift from researching a topic to posing a research question. This question will drive your own investigation (i.e.,it will allow you to ask more questions) and it will communicate a relevance to your audience. A research question also enables your research to be a process of inquiry (learning and discovery) rather than a process of tracking down "evidence" for your already-formed argument or thesis. Research is, after all, a process of discovery that can be most fun and rewarding when it takes you in a direction that you did not necessarily intend to go!

As a developing researcher, it is important for you to understand that readers of your project do not have any obligation to care about your research but they may well find it useful, relevant, and interesting if you give them good reasons for this relevancy. And part of making your research relevant is ensuring that it taps into a scholarly conversation about a topic that other researchers care, and thus write, about. In order to engage in that scholarly conversation, you will need to think about some way in which the conversation can and should be extended--some question that remains unanswered. 

Students in ENGL 414 will read more about crafting a working (that is, changeable, or in-development) research question in The Craft of Research written by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. We encourage anyone using this lib guide site to consider obtaining a copy of this book, which is a useful and accessible, multidisciplinary guide for novice researchers. You may also find the information in the box below helpful in crafting your research question.

From Topics to Research Questions

What UAA Faculty Have to Say about Undergraduate Research

What advice do faculty researchers at UAA have for undergraduates wanting to take their research to the next level? You might be surprised! The videos below present varied faculty points of view on such topics as the expectations for doing efficient research and field-tested best practices. 

These videos provide some useful perspectives, but they also model the sorts of questions that increasingly autonomous researchers can ask of advanced researchers in their field in order to find the answers relative to their own area of study. 

 

Video 1. 

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Video 3.

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Video 5. 

The Importance of Asking Questions in the Library

Students are often told to "go to the library for help" while working on a library-based research project. This can be a challenging directive--go and do what? Reference librarians are available to help students during their reserach, but that can be an intimidated or confusing process for the researcher.

We have heard students indicate that they don't know what kind of help to ask for or even how to pose a question about needing help. And this makes sense--at the early stage of a research project, you might not yet have a firm grasp on the direction of your project. It is likely that in some cases, researchers don't ask for help at all because they don't know how to effectively pose a question asking for help. 

Did You Know?

Did you know that librarians are trained to deal with this very situation? In fact, librarians take a whole course on the reference interview during their academic training. The reference interview refers to the questions that a librarian asks you, the researcher, in order to extract information about your project ideas and goals. Librarians have extensive practice in extracting information that will help them help you find what you need. This can be helpful because you might not know what you need or your ideas about what information will be most useful might be incorrect. In any case, a librarian is waiting to help you! 

Tips on Asking for Help

Even though reference librarians can give you a lot of guidance and support, it is important to go to the library to seek their help with an open mind but not an empty head! In other words, you need to have some idea about your goals, however tenative they might be. Here are some things that you can prepare before going to the library to ask for help:

  • A working research question, even if it is very basic; see information on the research question on this page. 
  • A key source or sources that you have found that address your working research question, even if you don't know whether they'll ultimately be useful. 
  • Any information you can provide about the project itself--your goal in doing the research, the eventual audience for the project, and/or the assignment sheet or prompt if it is a project you are working on in relation to a class.

The video below provides a good example of the reference interview in action. 

Watch a Reference Desk Interview