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ELI: Introduction to Seneca Libraries: Starting Your Research

Starting Your Research

Before you start searching for sources for your assignment, it's always good to think about how you'll search your research topic. Check out this short introduction to help you get started with research.

For more information on how to research, check out the Library Research for Students Tutorial.

Basic Research Process

Research is a circular process. This means that research is not a one-way process where you have a defined beginning, middle, and end. Most of the time, you may need to repeat steps of the research process.

Research takes time. Finding sources that are credible, relevant, and of good quality takes time. Remember that you may need to repeat some steps of the research process depending on what you need for your research assignment.

Here is an example of steps you may take when researching a topic for an assignment. You may need to repeat some of these steps based on the information you need for your assignment. 


Steps of the research process may include: Choose your topic, Do background research, Make a list of search words (keywords), Search for sources, Try searching with different keywords, Evaluate your sources


Start with a draft topic idea. The reason it's a draft is because you may need to change or modify your topic at any point in the research process depending on what you learn about your topic or the sources you find in your search.
Do some preliminary or "background" searching to get a basic understanding of the topic and to develop a list of keywords (search words) to use in your searching.
Based on your background research, make a list of keywords that best describes your topic. This can include synonyms and words that are connected to your topic.
Begin your research using academic sources, such as the Seneca's Library Search to find articles or books on your topic.
If you're not getting useful search results, you may want to change your search and/or keywords you are using.
Evaluate the sources you are finding to determine if they are reliable but also if they are relevant to your topic. If you are finding many sources on a different theme you may choose to refine your topic again, or you may choose to change your search strategy to find more relevant sources.

Background Research

Performing background research (sometimes called "preliminary research") on your topic is useful to get a basic understanding of the topic before you start doing more research and looking at academic sources.


After doing some background research you should be able to:

  • List the basic issues or concepts surrounding this topic
  • Describe the topic in general terms without relying on notes
  • Generate a list of keywords or subtopics that are commonly paired with your topic

Tools for conducting background research include:

  • Google: Google your topic and see what comes up. What types of websites appear? Are the websites educational, news, blogs, governmental, and/or from companies?
  • Seneca Library Search: Doing a quick search in Library Search can be useful for background research. When looking at your search results, look at the the types of resources (such as eBooks and articles), how many results, and how current the information is.
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries: Online encyclopedias and dictionaries may also be useful depending on your topic. Check out the list of Seneca Libraries' online encyclopedias and dictionaries.