The Seven Steps – A Research Strategy

The following seven steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the library, you may need to rearrange or recycle these steps. Adapt this outline to your needs.  Each of these seven steps offers a link to more information about this research strategy and the information resources and library services essential for your success!

Remember, also, Ivy Tech Librarians are ready to help you at every step in your research  (Ivy Tech Libraries).


SUMMARY: Begin by stating your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about the use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, “What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?” Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question to help develop the topic further.

Next: Continue to learn more about identifying and developing your topic.


SUMMARY: Your topic may be new and unfamiliar.  You may benefit from reading articles in encyclopedias and other reference works to set the context for your research. Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of the encyclopedia articles for further review. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings.

Next: Continue to learn more about context and background information.


SUMMARY: Ivy Tech libraries offer access to thousands of ebooks and streaming videos–as well as collections of print books and DVDs.

Next: Continue to learn more about finding books and media resources.


SUMMARY: Ivy Tech libraries offer access to thousands of ejournals from sources such as EBSCO Academic Search Premier or ProQuest Research Library.

Next: Learn more about finding scholarly articles.


SUMMARY: Consider how best to use search engines and where to find reliable information on the Open Web.

Next: Learn more about finding information on the Open Web.


SUMMARY: Use multiple evaluation methods to determine whether the information resources you’ve found should be used in your coursework.

Next: Learn more about evaluating information resources.


SUMMARY: Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources.  Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves two purposes, it gives proper credit to the authors of the materials used, and it allows those who are reading your work to duplicate your research and locate the sources that you have listed as references. Knowingly representing the work of others as your own is plagiarism.

Next: Learn more about citing sources.

Available online:

NoodleTools is a web-based program that allows you to collect, manage, and organize bibliographic references. References or Works Citing lists can be created and inserted into Word.

Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) offers online guides for both the MLA and APA citation styles:

Style guides in print (book) format (check your Ivy Tech library for reserve copies):

  • MLA Handbook. 8th ed. New York: MLA, 2016. This handbook is based on the MLA Style Manual and is intended as an aid for college students writing research papers. Included here is information on selecting a topic, researching the topic, note taking, the writing of footnotes and bibliographies, as well as sample pages of a research paper. Useful for the beginning researcher.
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington: APA, 2010. The authoritative style manual for anyone writing in the field of psychology. Useful for the social sciences generally. Chapters discuss the content and organization of a manuscript, writing style, the American Psychological Association citation style, and typing, mailing and proofreading.


  • Remember that you may need to revisit previous steps as you continue your research:  For example, as you consider scholarly articles and books, you may benefit from returning to background and context sources (encyclopedias, manuals, handbooks, etc.) to further your understanding of a new aspect of your topic.
  • Work from the general to the specific: Find background information first, then use more specific and recent sources to develop and support your purpose for writing.
  • Record what you find and where you found it: Record the complete citation for each source you find; you may need it again later.
  • Identify and use the vocabulary of the subject or discipline of your topic in your search:  As you review background and context sources, take note of any specialized terminology used to explain or describe significant concepts.  Try using these words as keywords in your search.