Answered By: Caryl Wyatt
Last Updated: Feb 06, 2018     Views: 1385

Research can be complicated, but it doesn't need to be scary! Use these tips to get started, and if you need more guidance, use the links below for more information or stop by your nearest Ivy Tech library to chat with a friendly librarian.


First things first: if you're doing research for a paper, you're definitely going to need a topic. What are you writing about? What is your argument? If you're struggling to come up with what to write about, see this common question answered: How do I choose a topic for my paper?

Once you've chosen a topic, it's easiest to start research by turning the topic into a question. For example, if your topic is drones, what type of drones are you interested in- war, commercial, delivery, surveillance, or recreational? Is your stance for or against drones? What about other types of robots? 

Your research question could be as simple as What are drones being used for and why? But that is probably too broad of a question for a college-level research paper. Try getting more specific with your question by thinking about the 5Ws you learned in elementary school: who, what, when, where, and why. Who is affected by drones? What time period are you interested in: current, past, or future? What geographical location does your topic affect: the United States, the Middle East, or outer space? Are you interested in the ethics of drone use? 

A few better, more specific research question could be: 

  • How is the government using drones to protect American citizens? 
  • What are the risks of private citizens owning drones? 
  • Are drones an effective means of protecting the border? 
  • Do military drone strikes violate human rights?


Once you choose a topic and write a research question, you next need to figure out what you're going to search. The library's databases don't work exactly like Google, so you have to break your question down into keywords. Keywords are the most important words and phrases from your research question.

If your research question is Do military drone strikes violate human rights? your keywords could be dronesmilitary, and human rights. You might also want to think about synonyms of these words like warweaponstechnologyaircraftcivil rights, and related words like antiterrorism.


Now that you have your keywords, you can finally start searching! If you don't know which database you want to search in, we recommend starting with the Discover! search bar on the library's homepage because it searches most of our databases. If you would rather search individual databases, you can find them by subject on our A-Z list.

Type your keywords into the search box using connector words like andor, and not. A search for our sample research question, Do military drone strikes violate human rights? could be any of these:

  • drones and military and "human rights"
  • drones and war and "civil rights"
  • drones and "Middle East" and antiterrorism
  • drones and war and technology
  • drones and war and ethics
  • drones and (war or military) and ("civil rights" or "human rights")

Narrow or Broaden

After you search, your results list might show hundreds or thousands of articles, books, images, or videos. If you got lots of results, you should narrow your results by using the filters on the left side of the screen. Start by selecting "full text" (so you can read the entire article) and using the date slider/range to narrow the results to the last 5-10 years.

If you only got a few results, your topic may be too narrow and you should broaden your search using different keywords and fewer limiters.


I know getting to this step has taken a lot of work, but after your first search, you are still not finished with research! Most research questions take several different searches in different databases to find the best articles and books for a paper. Either swap out your keywords using the synonyms you thought of in the "keywords" step above or choose another database from the A-Z list and use your keywords to do a search for new materials. 

Research is a process that takes time, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to find the sources you need for your paper or annotated bibliography. If you've made it this far and feel like you might need help finding sources, you can always email us or come in to your nearest Ivy Tech library for one-on-one help with a friendly librarian.

Related Guides

Related Questions


We're here to help!


Downtown (317) 921-4782
Lawrence (317) 921-4219

    Text: (317) 494-7543

  E-mail a Librarian

   Browse our FAQs

    Research Guides


   Library Homepage