The research process is a system for organizing your search for information. Following a system makes you a more efficient researcher and can save you time.
If you only need to look up one or two sources and your topic is clearly defined, you don't need to be too concerned with the research process.
But suppose you're writing a 5-10 page paper, and you need to collect a variety of sources: popular and scholarly, primary and secondary, books, articles, web sites. Very quickly, the project could get out of hand, and you could end up backtracking, starting over and wasting a lot of time. This scenario is where the research process will serve you well.
Quick Steps for Getting Started
When it comes to taking notes you can be low-tech, high-tech, or a combination of both. What's important is that you set up a system that works for you.
Your notes should keep track of three kinds of things:
You'll often see the research process as a set of linear steps. But the truth is, research is more of a cyclical process.
Just like the linear approach, the cycle starts with a topic or an idea. As you use reference sources to get background information, then catalogs, databases and the web to collect information, you're always building your keyword list, refining your topic, evaluating information, and documenting your sources. The steps are the same as the linear approach, but the research process "daisy" shown below reflects the fluidity of your topic and the ongoing changes that are a natural part of research.
Keeping good research notes will save time. Your notes should include information such as the date, what tools or databases you used, keywords you tried, results, revisions, leads to new ideas, and anything else that you might need to keep track of.