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Library Research for Students

This guide is for Seneca students completing a research assignment.

Basic Research Process

Research is an iterative process. This means that research does not follow a linear "beginning, middle and end" process, and many steps in the research process are repeatable.

Research takes time. You may need to go through various steps of the process many times in order to find relevant results, make sure you've done a comprehensive search on your topic, and to ensure the best quality results.

The research workflow can sometimes look like this, where at any point in this cycle you can jump to different steps and repeat actions:

a cycle with 6 squares along the cycle that read: choose your topic, do background searching, make a list of keywords, search, revise and refine keywords, evaluate your results


Generate your draft topic idea. The reason it's a draft is because you may refine your topic at any point in the research process depending on what you learn about your topic or the results you retrieve.
Do some preliminary or "background" searching to determine a baseline of knowledge for yourself on the topic and to develop a list of keywords to use in your searching.
Based on your search results, make a list of keywords that are used for your topic, and generate a list of alternate keywords. Are there multiple terms that could be used to describe the same thing? That will be useful when searching for resources.
Begin your research using academic sources, such as Library Search to find articles or books on your topic.
Based on what you are finding, you may want to revise your search or refine the keywords you are using to make sure you are finding relevant results.
Evaluate the resources you are finding to determine if they are reliable but also if they are relevant to your topic. If you are finding many resources on a different theme you may choose to refine your topic again, or you may choose to revise your search strategy to find more relevant resources.

Background Research

Performing background research (sometimes called "preliminary research") on your topic is useful to get a baseline understanding of the topic before you start doing further research and looking at more 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 (educational? governmental? news headlines? personal pages?)

►Wikipedia - The Wikipedia entry/article on your topic is not an academic or reliable source and cannot be cited in your assignment. However, the references at the bottom of a Wikipedia entry can be viewed by you and judged on their own merit. Sometimes they link to credible websites such as for organizations, governments, white papers, etc.  

►Library Search - Doing a quick search in Library search can be useful at the background research stage. Take note of the types of resources are coming up in terms of the amount of results and how current they are.

►Encyclopedias and Dictionaries - Online general and specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries may also be a useful tool, depending on your topic. Here is a list of Seneca Libraries' online encyclopedias and dictionaries.