College research is the process of discovering a reasonable answer to a question by investigating outside sources and presenting this information in a paper or presentation. This process requires a number of steps and good time management skills. Generating effective questions is the first step in research. You must then identify the types of resources available on the topic, access them from a library or online, and evaluate the quality of the resources. The quantity and quality of resources found in the process will directly affect the grade you will receive on the assignment. As such, it is very important to ensure that you are using strategies to find the best material available! Finally, the research must be incorporated into your paper or presentation and documented appropriately.

To learn more about the research process explore the following resources:

  • “Research It Right” is an interactive tutorial from Acadia University that guides you through the basic research process.

Generating Questions

Your research is only as good as the questions you ask. When you have been assigned a topic, you should begin by brainstorming your ideas.  Some questions that might help narrow your thinking are:

  1. What is the goal of this research?
  2. Based on the information from your course work, what are your assumptions about this topic?
  3. Who are the experts in this field?
  4. How have the experts discussed this topic? What are their thoughts?
  5. What are the biggest questions you have about this topic?
  6. Why does this topic matter to you and your audience?

Sample Questions

TOPIC: Vaccinations

  1. What is the goal of this research?
    1. The goal is to consider the impact of vaccinations on public health.

  2. Based on the information from your course work, what are your assumptions about this topic?
    1. Failure to vaccinate could cause greater infection throughout a community.
    2. The health benefits far outweigh the risks.
      1. Vaccinations and vaccination schedules in Canada versus the US are different and therefore may have different risks.
      2. Some potentially fatal childhood diseases have been almost eradicated.
        1. Compare the infection rates for childhood diseases in developing countries with no vaccinations available to Canada.
    3. There seems to be the most concern for vaccinating children.
      1. Some alternative healthcare providers lobby against traditional vaccinations.
      2. Vaccinations and their potential link to Autism is always in the news.
      3. Parents make the vaccination choices for their children, so their role is vital.

  3. Who are the experts in this field?
    1. Doctors of conventional and alternative medicine.
    2. Community Health Nurses.
    3. Health Canada.

  4. How have the experts discussed this topic? What are their thoughts?
    1. Doctors of alternative medicine seem to suggest that the risks of vaccination are great.
    2. Health Canada and Community Health Nurses advocate for vaccinations.

  5. What are the biggest questions you have about this topic?
    1. What are some expert opinions on this topic??
    2. Who is responsible for the health of a community? Should all community members be required to take preventative measures to protect themselves from illness?
      1. In the case of communicable diseases, how can a community control the spread?
    3. In countries that do not vaccinate, are there higher rates of infection for childhood diseases?
      1. Is the community at large in these communities more likely to become ill from these diseases?
    4. Is there evidence to suggest that small children are at great risk of side effects?
      1. What are common side effects? How are side effects reported? Who protects the public if there is a problem with a vaccine?
    5. How are vaccinations in Canada tested? Is the system effective?

  6. Why does this topic matter to you and your audience?
    1. It matters to me because it is a current issue much debated in the news and affects all children and parents in Canada.


Next, using your specific question as the starting point, you need to generate more questions to help guide your research.  These questions will help you find the information you need to answer your question.  See the example below:


Once you have generated your specific questions, you will be more mindful in your research process because you will be looking for specific answers.  At this point, you can draft a tentative thesis and rough outline, based on your specific topic and questions. Check out the tentative thesis and outline for the topic of vaccinations:



Parents have a social responsibility to vaccinate their children despite anxiety over individual risk, because the possibility of a devastating epidemic is far worse for a community.


  1. What does the research suggest about the potential benefits of vaccinating small children?
    1. Compare current and historical polio infection rate data.
      1. Give an example of the risks of contracting this disease in childhood and explain how the vaccine works to stop it.

  2. What does the research suggest about the potential risks of vaccinating small children?
    1. Explain the statistical risk associated with common vaccinations in Canada
      1. How are vaccines monitored for safety in Canada? Who determines the vaccination schedule?
      2. Give an expert opinion on the safety of vaccinations and vaccination schedules in Canada.
    2. Anti-vaccination movements purport side effects such as autism and say the risk is too high for children - Is there any truth to the claim that vaccines cause autism?
      1. Give an example of the perceived and actual risks associated with a specific vaccine such as H1N1
        1. Give the "facts" on the medical communities' current understanding of the link between vaccines and autism.

  3. Vaccinations stop epidemics - Is there any truth to the claim that vaccinations could eliminate some communicable childhood diseases?
    1. Explain the connection between not vaccinating and the risk of epidemic. (Use historical data for support)
      1. Share the views of a pro-vaccination organization such as "Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases"

This will help you to stay focused and organized throughout the process. So, let the search begin! 

Types of Resources Available

Where to look! What to look for!

Where can you find the resources you need to answer your question(s)? Here are several places to begin your search:

Course Materials

  • Search for background information from lecture notes and textbooks, names of experts in the field, and titles of articles from the references or bibliographies in course materials.


  • Contact your library staff. They are experts in the research process and can help you find good resources.
  • Search the catalogue by topic or subject to find encyclopaedias, books, and articles that are in circulation in your library.
    • Record the call number.
    • Retrieve the material and look for other related items on the shelves since they are typically grouped by topic or author.
    • Use the references found at the end of articles or at the back of books for a list of other potential sources.
  • Search the periodical index at the library or online to find articles available from databases.  Usually the full-text version of the article is linked from the index.  Refer to the references at the end of an article for a list of other potential sources.

Internet Resources

  • Use a search engine to locate websites, blogs, wikis or discussion pages relevant to your topic.
  • Use your library’s password protected databases or access material through Google Scholar to locate scholarly literature.  Library databases and scholarly articles do not appear through general internet searches.
  • Try at least two search engines since not all information is available on every search engine.  Two options might be:

Researching Online

Do you know how to find accurate, reliable, current and available online research for papers and assignments? The web is a vast assortment of resources that may or may not help you find the information you need. And, not all the information you find will be appropriate, accurate, or credible. The best way to sift through the hundreds, thousands, or millions of hits you receive from a basic online search is to become more effective in your approach. There are some strategies for researching online:

  1. Learn how to use basic and advanced search functions for online catalogues, databases and search engines by asking for help at your library.
    • Lethbridge College’s Buchanan Library offers a Database Tip Sheet, an overview of their online catalogue and how to use the basic and advanced search functions.
    • For information about using the Google search engine, check out Google Tips & Tricks from the Cooperative Library Instruction Project.
  2. Use web tools to find, organize, cite, create and save information online.
    • For an extensive list of available digital research tools, classified by function, check out the “DiRT, Digital Resource Tools” wiki. This wiki was created by academic librarians.
      • An example of a digital resource tool is the social bookmarking site, Delicious. You can create a free account, save your links to the site, tag them by topic, and share them.  As well, you can potentially see what other people are bookmarking about your topic.
    • Or, see the tools available from Google Tools. Google Tools are free and can help you to search full-text books, blogs, news items, etc.
  3. Understand the role that Wikipedia can and cannot play in your academic research.
    • NEVER cite Wikipedia in an academic paper! Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia with user-generated and edited content, thus making it quite unreliable and potentially inaccurate.
    • However, Wikipedia can provide you with basic background information or external links to reliable websites that can inform your research. It should be used only as a starting place for background information and never as an expert opinion on a topic. Keep in mind that all information from this website must be confirmed by external, credible sources.
  4. Be web savvy by learning more about internet research strategies, evaluating website quality, and learning how to properly cite internet sources.
    • Assume your role as an “Internet Detective” by exploring this interactive tutorial which focuses on how to be more effective at using online materials in research.

Evaluating Resources

Not all information on the web, in newspapers, and in magazines is accurate, reliable, and current. Your job as a post-secondary student and researcher is to assess the quality of the resources you are accessing. You must only use credible resources. Follow these tips when evaluating resources:

  1. Upon an initial read of a resource, consider asking: Who? What? When? Where? Why?


  2. Make the distinction between scholarly versus popular journal articles.

  3. Learn to evaluate websites.
    • Consider using a rubric to determine the reliability of the websites you are using. Check out "Evaluating Primary Source Web Sites" from Monadnock Regional High School, that will help you to determine the quality of the information from an online resource.
    • Be sceptical. Do not assume that all information published online is suitable to your research. Just because something looks authentic doesn’t mean that it is! Consider the following website from the University of Michigan:
      • Jacopo di Poggibonsi
      • This website was created by students at the University of Michigan about a historical figure, Jacopo di Poggibonsi.  The information about this Italian painter looks credible and the website looks professional, but it is a complete fake! Could you detect that the website is bogus?
    • “Credible Sources Count!” is an interactive tutorial from Acadia University that guides you through discerning whether or not information is credible