Research is a conversation. People (scholars / citizens / activists / interested parties / students / corporations / governments / nonprofits, etc.) are having conversations about your topic. These conversations can be found in the scholarly literature, as well as other formats like conferences, white papers, blogs, etc. As a researcher, your job is to access, explore and evaluate the conversation as it occurs in these sources. Once you understand the shape of the conversation, you can contribute your own thoughts and voice.
Ask yourself these questions: What interests me about my topic? What do I already know about it? Can I identify key aspects of the topic, like important places, dates, events, philosophies?
CHECK IN: Sketch out the overall scope of your topic: do you understand the broad topic enough so you develop a focused research question? Discover who’s having conversations about your topic: who are the major scholars or experts in the field? Identify terms and jargons those experts use: what keywords can you use to search for more information?
Explore the Conversation - Once you've started to turn your topic into a research question or hypothesis, you'll have a clearer sense of the conversation. You'll have an idea of what you want to explore further & what questions you want to ask related to the topic. Don't worry about having the question set in stone before you start doing research. Research is also a conversation between you and your sources & your topic/question.
CHECK IN: Can you answer these questions: How are experts discussing your topic? What themes do they consider? What common questions do people debate? What is the scope of the topic? (Are scholars discussing your entire topic or pieces of it?) Who is having the conversation – are you seeing the same names mentioned in the citations again and again?
Once you can articulate the major aspects of the research conversation surrounding your topic, you’re ready to add your voice to the topic and contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Pay attention to the assignment prompt, talk with your professor and visit the Writing Center for help integrating sources. Brainstorm ideas with a librarian. Use the Cite Your Sources link on the library’s homepages for information about formatting citations.