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Research Process: Researching and Writing: Get Started

This guide has been created to provide quick access to resources that support the research process.

Getting Started with Your Research

Research  includes locating information, reflecting on what you've learned, adapting your ideas, organizing thoughts into a logical order, and using those sources and ideas to produce a project or come to a decision.

Research is required for many college papers, projects, and presentations. This does not mean you will be responsible for primary, or original research. Primary research refers to collecting original data through surveys, experiments, interviews, or observations. Instead, the research you will do includes using search tools, such as the Novanet catalogue, article databases, and the Web, to find existing credible research on a topic.

Brown University. (2020, October 5). What is research [Video]?

The first and most important step in the research process is to examine your assignment to determine what your instructor is looking for and what guidelines they have given you for the assignment. Take note of the following:


Has the instructor assigned a specific topic or topics for you to write about, or can you choose a subject of interest to you within the scope of the course?

Type of research

Does the assignment require original research (such as a survey or experiment that you conduct) or does it require secondary research (the interpretation of previously published research found in books or journal articles)?


Does the instructor want you to analyse a topic from different viewpoints, or do you need to take one position and defend it?


Are you required to use a certain number and/or type of sources in your research?


Does the instructor want a cover sheet and/or abstract? Is the instructor expecting the paper to include graphs or charts?


Has the instructor set a page or word limit on the paper?


Has the instructor given any guidelines regarding the layout of the paper, such as line spacing or use of page numbers?

Citation style

Has the instructor specified a citation style for you to use in citing your sources?

Due date

When is your paper due? Do you have enough time to obtain all the materials you will need?

Basic Research

Basic research, also called "pure" or "fundamental" research is the most common type of research that students will be asked to do while in college. Basic research is used to expand theoretical knowledge on a topic. 


  • How did South Sudan respond to the cholera outbreak?

  • What do early childhood settings teach about racial injustice?

  • How effective is aquatic therapy in reducing the pain and immobility associated with arthritis?

  • How does alcohol and drug use on campus affect the safety of college students?

Applied Research

When you take on an applied research project, the focus of your question and answer is more practical. 

Applied research is actively trying to solve a real-world problem. The focus is on an actionable outcome.


  • How can nurses improve their basic wound care?

  • How can early childhood settings better educate children about racial injustice?

  • How can local long term care facilities encourage people with arthritis to attend the aquatic therapy program?

  • How can XYZ night safety phone app appeal more to new college students to increase downloads of the app

Infographic showing the difference between basic and applied research.

Seneca College. (n.d.). Applied research for students.

(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Qualitative Research

Research that seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perceptions, motivations, intentions, and behaviors based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting.

  • What's involved: Observations described in words
  • Starting point: A situation the researcher can observe
  • Goals: Participants are comfortable with the researcher. They are honest and forthcoming, so that the researcher can make robust observations.
  • Drawbacks: If the researcher is biased, or is expecting to find certain results, it can be difficult to make completely objective observations.
  • Some Methods: Interview, Focused group, Observation, Ethnography, Grounded Theory
  • How to Locate: To find qualitative studies, try adding the word "qualitative" to your search terms. The word "qualitative" will sometimes appear in the title, abstract, or subject terms, but not always. Look at the methods section of the article to determine what type of study design was used.


Saber, D. S., Anglade, D., & Schirle, L. M,  (2016, March). A study examining senior nursing students' expectations of work and the workforce. Journal of Nursing Management, 24(2).

Ya-Ting, Ke. (2019, July 11). On the difficulty of finding one’s place: A qualitative study of new nurses’ processes of growth in the workplace. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 28(23-24). 


Quantitative Research

Research based on traditional scientific methods, which generates numerical data and usually seeks to establish causal relationships between two or more variables, using statistical methods to test the strength and significance of the relationships.

  • What's involved: Observations measured in numbers
  • Starting point: A testable hypothesis
  • Goals:  Others can repeat the findings of the study
  • Drawbacks: Researchers may be so careful about measurement methods that they do not make connections to a greater context
  • Some Methods: Survey, Randomized controlled trial, Clinical trial, Experimental Statistics
  • How to Locate: To find quantitative studies, try adding the word "quantitative" to your search terms. The word "quantitative" will sometimes appear in the title, abstract, or subject terms, but not always. Look at the methods section of the article to determine what type of study design was used.


Schwartz, P. H., Imperiale, T. F., Perkins, S. M., Schmidt, K. K. Althouse, S., & Rawl, S. M. (2019, April). Impact of including quantitative information in a decision aid for colorectal cancer screening: A randomized controlled trial. Patient Education and Counseling, 102(4).             

Solvik, E., & Struksnes, S. (2018, March 11). Training nursing skills: A quantitative study of nursing students’ experiences before and after clinical practice, Nursing Research and Practice     

Simmons University. (2020, August 20). Nursing: Quantitative and qualitative articles

Scribbr. (2019, November 15). Quantitative vs. qualitative research: The differences explained [Video]. YouTube.

Assignment Tools and Strategies

Concept mapping is a technique for identifying, organizing, and sharing knowledge - it is a visual representation of information.

Concept mapping helps us identify information we know and helps us group concepts or ideas. It also helps us define how concepts or ideas are related to each other. 

Concept maps can take many forms including charts, graphic organizers, tables, flowcharts, Venn Diagrams, timelines, or T-charts.

University of Washington. (2020, June 15). Concept mapping [Video]. 

CC BY-NC 4.0

Good notes will help you stay focused in class, remember what you're learning, develop learning skills, and help you to better understand the topics you're studying. 

Great notes will help you recall information better and more effectively when it is assignment and/or test time.  Note-taking is also an important skill for the workplace.

Consult the NSCC Writing Centre Subject Guide: Note Taking Tab for more support.

StudyTee. (2018, December 16). How I take notes - Tips for neat and efficient note taking [Video].

Practicing good time management lets you work smarter. Time management refers to the ways you organize and plan your activities and also the amount of time you spend on each task.

There are several benefits of practicing good time management, including,

  • Improved productivity and efficiency

  • Less stress

  • Greater opportunities to achieve important life and career goals

Spending a little time learning about time-management techniques will help you as a student and also throughout your career.

Assignment Calculators

By breaking down your writing assignments into a series of manageable steps, an assignment calculator can help you manage your time and stress effectively.

There are many free assignment calculators available:

Eastern Kentucky University's Student Success Center. (2020 June 15). Time management for college students [Video].


A working bibliography is a detailed list of all the books, articles and other sources relevant to your project.  A working bibliography will keep you organized while gathering, evaluating and sorting through your sources.

A working bibliography has two purposes:

  1. To keep a record of all your sources

  2. To record details of each source so that they can be properly referenced

There are many formats you can use when creating a working bibliography including note cards, word documents, or online tools.

A Research Journal is a record of your experience and findings as you work though the research process.

Benefits of a Research Journal

  • Save Time

You'll know where you searched, which keywords worked best, what you found, and how you plan to use each source in your paper or presentation. 

  • Reduce Stress

Knowing where you located your sources and keeping a record of your sources will reduce your stress.

  • Improve your writing

Finding new sources of information will allow you to develop new perspectives and ideas.

  • Avoid plagiarism

A research journal helps you record all the information needed to properly cite your sources and also will help you keep track of ideas, concepts or quotations you may include in your writing.

Research Journal Formats

  • Keep a Word document

  • Use free online tools. Check out journaling app for a list of the best online tools.

  • Keep a paper notebook

Research Journal Contents

Keeping a research journal is personal and what you include in a research journal is as unique as you are. Some content that you may consider including is:

  • Where did you search?

Record the name of the website, library database or search engine you used.

  • What keywords did you use?

Record each keyword you used and also how effective the keyword was in locating information relevant to your research.

  • What sources did you find? 

Record the title, author, date and location or each source you located.  This is part of creating a reference list and will save you time and stress.

  • How will you use each source? 

Identify important ideas or quotations and consider how you can use the source in your writing.

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