Research Process

35 Coming Up With Research Strategies

Rashida Mustafa and Emilie Zickel

You have chosen a topic. You have taken that topic and developed it into a research question or a hypothesis. Now it is time to begin your research.

You may want to begin by asking yourself questions relating to your chosen topic so that you can begin sifting through and perusing sources that you will use to further your understanding of the topic. When you begin the research phase of your essay, you will come across an array of sources that look helpful in the beginning, but once you have a clearer idea of what you want to research, you might see that the research you were once considering to use in your essay is now irrelevant. To make your research efficient, start your project with a well-defined research strategy.

A research strategy involves deciding what you need to know in order to answer your research question. The following questions will aid you in deciding what you need to know:

  • What data do you need?
  • What can different kinds of sources—popular or academic, primary/secondary/tertiary—offer you?
  • Whose perspectives could help you to answer your research question?
  • What kinds of professionals/scholars will be able to give you the information you seek?
  • What kinds of keywords should you be using to get the information that you want?


Where should I look?

As you seek sources that can help you answer your research question, think about the types of “voices” you need to hear from. The following list will help you to consider different perspectives that may be useful:

  • scientists/researchers who have conducted their own research studies on your topic
  • scholars/thinkers/writers who have also looked at your topic and offered their own analyses of it
  • journalists who are reporting on what they have observed
  • journalists/newspaper or magazine authors who are providing their educated opinions on your topic
  • critics, commentators or others who offer opinions on your topic
  • tertiary sources/fact books that offer statistics or data (usually without analysis)
  • personal stories of individuals who have lived through an event
  • bloggers/tweeters/other social media posters

Any of these perspectives (and more) could be useful in helping you to answer your research question.


Wikipedia DOs and DONTs

Wikipedia, the place that we have all been told to avoid, can be a great place to get ideas for a research strategy. Wikipedia can help you to identify key terms, people, events, arguments or other elements that are essential to understanding your topic. The information that you find on Wikipedia can also offer ideas for keywords that you can use to search in academic databases. Spending a bit of time in Wikipedia can help you to answer essential beginning questions, such as:

  • Do you fully understand the history of your topic?
  • Do you understand the current situation/most recent information on your topic?
  • Do you know about key events that have shaped the controversy surrounding your topic?

Remember that Wikipedia is a resource, NOT a source. Should you cite Wikipedia? Not usually. Should you be using a Wikipedia page as a source? Not usually. But Wikipedia can give you some wonderful access to the context surrounding your topic and help you to get started. The following are some questions that may help you to use Wikipedia appropriately, if you use it at all:

  • What key words did you find through a Wikipedia page that you can use in further research?
  • What aspects of controversy surrounding your topic (people, events, dates, or other specifics—) can you use in further research?
  • What sources (from the Wikipedia page’s List of References) will you pursue and perhaps locate and read?

The video below offers more tips on how you can integrate Wikipedia into your research strategy.





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The Ask: A More Beautiful Question Copyright © 2021 by Rashida Mustafa and Emilie Zickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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