Steps of the Research Process


Step 1: Choosing & Narrowing a Topic

1. State your topic as a question.

What effect does genetically engineered food have on the health of consumers?

2. Identify the main concepts.

genetically engineered foods AND health AND consumers

3. Select alternative keywords for main concepts.

genetically altered foods GMO (genetically modified organisms)
biotechnology and food
genetically engineered
health and safety food safety
well being
consumers public

4. Test your topic.
Search for your keywords in the Library Catalog or in background sources like encyclopedias.


Step 2: Find Background Information

Background and introductory information places a research topic into a greater context. Lecture notes, textbooks, and reference books such as encyclopedias and almanacs make up important background information.

1. Look up keywords in the index of an encyclopedia, find the entry, and don't forget to take note of the bibliography at the end of the article for further readings.

2. Browse the Library's reference collection in the corresponding call number area. Read articles in the sources you find to set the context of your research. Pay close attention to the vocabulary the authors use.

3. Search for bibliographies on your topic in the Library Catalog by conducting a subject search on your topic followed by Bibliography. Example: Human Rights -- Bibiolgraphy

Step 3: Find Books in the Library Catalog

Books provide broader, more extensive information on a given topic. The Library Catalog allows you to search for books in any of the City College Libraries/Learning Resource Centers. The materials located in the library where you are working appear in bold text on the screen. You will notice many ways to search, such as Title, Author, Subject, Subject Keyword, etc.

  • Use KEYWORD searching for narrowly defined or complex topics.
  • Use SUBJECT searching for broader or more standard subjects.
  • Write down the CALL NUMBER to locate a book on the shelf in the library.

The Library at City College of San Francisco uses the Library of Congress classification system. This system classifies the materials in the collection by subject. For a more detailed look at the system, browse the Library of Congress Classification Outline.

To find books in other libraries around the Bay Area, follow the link Other Libraries on the CCSF Library Homepage.


Step 4: Find Periodical Articles

Current and specific information is found in articles in periodicals (magazines, journals, or newspapers). Articles are often used to update and support the information in books.

The most effective way to find articles on a given topic is to use an index. In the past, researchers would have to use print indexes to find articles on a topic, write down the citation, then go to the shelves to find the article in the print issue of the periodical. This method is still used for retrospective or historical research. However, today we have article databases which index articles by subject and often provide the full text of the article.

  • Select one of the article databases available from the CCSF Library website.
  • Search the database using the keywords from your research question.
  • Both scholarly and popular periodicals are available. Decide what level of scholarship you need by consulting Scholarly Journals v. Popular Magazines.
  • If the full text of the article is available through the database, print or email the article to yourself.
  • If only the citation is available, you can:

Check the library catalog to see whether the print version is available at one of the CCSF libraries.

Search Other Libraries' catalogs in the Bay Area to see whether they carry the periodical containing your article.