Skip to Main Content

Research & Find

Where Do I Start?

Knowing what to do first when starting a research project can be confusing! This page will walk you through getting started on your research. 

The Research Process

Research is a process by which we explore, investigate, and gather information to either find new discoveries or analyze existing ideas. It is a process of systematic inquiry where we ask questions and seek to find the answers to those queries. 

Research most often includes the following steps:

  • Identifying the need for information
  • Creating a research question, query, or area for exploration
  • Determining the type and amount of information needed
  • Conducting or creating searches for information 
  • Evaluating and assessing the found information
  • Using existing information and creating new information to fulfill a purpose
  • Citing existing information
  • Creating new material or information
  • Sharing your created material

Research is not a straightforward, linear process. It evolves, changes, backtracks, and jumps forward the more you work on your identified question or query. In fact, research looks more like a squiggly, jumbled piece of string than a straightforward or progressing line.

Every person develops their own way to research. Your research workflow will look different from your classmates. And that's okay! The more you conduct research, the more comfortable you will be.

Background Research

Background information provides you with the important context of an idea or topic that helps you better understand your area of research. At its core, background information is what you need to know about a subject before you can research a specific question or argue a specific point.

There are numerous places to find background information. Where you look depends on what you need to learn and research. Some places to start include:

  • Read material available in Reference Sources like:
  • Handbooks - provides information, facts, and figures related to certain industries or topics.
  • Encyclopedias - provides summaries and "big picture" looks at people, places, things, and events.
  • Dictionaries - provides information explaining topics in specific subject areas.
  • Atlases - provides maps, facts, figures, and data relevant to geographic areas and demographic topics.
  • Wikipedia! It's okay to start background reading here.
  • Your course textbook.

Also, background information can include your own personal and community experience. As a student, you have likely encountered many situations and learning opportunities that have informed your understanding and opinions on various subjects. While these are not "academic" sources, your experience matters and can help you understand all sides of a topic.

The links below take you to our recommended library databases that can help you start your background research.

Ask a Librarian


Phone: 202-274-5104 (Reference)

             202-274-6009 (Circulation)

In-Person: Building 71, 6th Floor

(4250 Connecticut Ave. NW)

Chat: Chat with a Librarian

Appointments: Schedule Now

Library Instruction: Request A Session

Suggest a Title: Make a Purchase Request