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6 Stages of Research

Walk through the different stages of the research process, breaking each step down into manageable and concrete action. This guide includes topic brainstorming, creating a research plan, finding information, taking notes, and citation.

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Information Seeking

The purpose of information seeking is to get an idea of what resources exist to help you answer your question

We have all had that experience where we have come up with a really interesting question and then discovered that we just didn't have access to the types of resources that would help us answer it. This step helps you figure out if you will able to answer your research question in the time allotted to you and with the resources you can access. 

  • Break your research question down into multiple questions, and see if you can answer the questions that compose your research question with the resources available.
    • Essentially, you might not be able to find an article on how international businesses use social media for branding in comparison to domestic businesses, but you can probably find articles on how domestic companies use Facebook, and articles on how international businesses use social media and do the comparison yourself.
  • Ask your professor about what types of resources you should be looking for.
  • Think outside the box. Instead of just using scholarly articles, consider using statistics and primary sources. 


  1. Do a preliminary search with the Search Everything Tool. 
    • Are there any journals that keep popping up?
    • Does there seem to be a gap in the literature?
    • Is there enough published information for me to use?
    • Who can you talk to for information?
  2. Select the best types of resources for what you want to do.
    • Are there conflicting arguments that you should address?
    • Is there a popular theory that applies to what you are researching?
    • Are there statistics or primary research you can use?
    • Do you have requirements for what types of resources you should use?
  3. Ask yourself if there are any types of sources you are missing.
  4. Ask yourself if you can answer the research question with the resources you have available to you. 

Evaluating Sources

When looking at an information source, try asking yourself the Five W's. 

  • Who? Who wrote this? Can you even tell? Are they an authority in this topic? Credentials are important, but first-hand accounts are also important. Most importantly, who stands to benefit if you believe this source?
  • What? What kind of resource is this? Is it an advertisement? Newspaper article? Scholarly research article? Also, what kind of information does it present? Does the content match up with what you already know about this topic? Are there a bunch of advertisements, either related or unrelated to the topic of the article?
  • When? How up to date is the information? And how soon after the event was this published? (We've all seen false reports and misinformation happen shortly after major events like school shootings.) Also, how up to date do you need the information to be? Looking for reviews of classic movies that came out shortly after the cinematic debut versus critical acclaim that came years later can make a big difference.
  • Where? Country of origin?  How different is the information provided by CNN versus BBC versus Al-Jazeera? Also, where is this information in relation to the structure of the website? Is it on the front page? Is it buried?
  • Why? What's the purpose of the source? Is it trying to sell you something? Convince you of something? Also, why are you looking at this source? Entertainment? Medical research? Academic need?

When looking at an information source, consider the following CRAAP Method:

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining that this is one you will use?
  • Is this source appropriate for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    • examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

When you are evaluating different sources make sure they fall into one or more of the four BEAM categories. 

Background Sources - Materials that provide an overview of a topic, such as core concepts and facts

  • Used for information that is well established in the field.
  • These sources serve as the foundation for understanding the topic.

Exhibit Sources - Materials a writer is interpreting or analyzing

  • Used to provide examples and/or evidence.
  • Depending on your topic and discipline, exhibiting materials can be a novel, a data set, an interview, experimental results, a diary, scholarly books or articles, or any number of primary resources
    • Example: If you are researching depictions of working women on TV, an episode of Friends could be a resource for exhibit. If you are researching changes in employment in the United States, statistics from the Bureau of Labor might be an exhibit resource. 

Argument Sources - Information from other authors you agree with, disagree with, or build upon

  • Used to make claims related to your thesis statement and the argument you're making.
  • Citing them puts your research in the context of other scholarship on that topic; it brings you into conversation
  • Constitutes the literature review section in many disciplines. 
  • Note: you use your exhibit sources to explain why you agree, disagree, or want to improve upon your argument sources. 

Method Sources - Materials an author follows to determine how they are doing their research

  • Used to determine a governing concept or manner of working. 
  • Can include research procedures, theories, and sources of discipline-specific vocabulary.
  • Some methods become so common in a field that scholars do not feel the need to cite them but will presume their readers will know them.
    • Example: Scholars who study game theory in economics may feel no need to describe the prisoner's dilemma, while scholars in critical literacy studies may not define "reification."

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