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Seminar Guide - Race & the Law

The Research Process

The Basic Research Process


Step 1: Identify Your Topic

Getting Started

  • If you don't already have a specific topic in mind, get started by doing basic background research and finding general information on the field or subject as a whole. Introductory textbooks or treatises are a good way to acquire background knowledge.
  • Familiarizing yourself with the current body of knowledge in your subject will help you identify smaller subareas and topics of interest; gradually, a narrower focus should emerge.
  • After you've done your introductory background research, you can use the resources given in the rest of this guide to help you narrow your topic. Your goal is to evaluate the background information you found and focus in on a well-defined subject within the scope of your overall topic. It should be narrow enough to be manageable, but broad enough that you won't have trouble finding sources to inform your discussion.

For further ideas and strategies, see these online guides:

Step 2: Research Your Topic

  • Identify the resources that are the most relevant to your topic. The links in the rest of this guide will help you. Be sure to keep a record of what you've searched and what you've found, so that you don't waste time duplicating things you've already done.
  • Evaluation of resources is important - make sure you're using sources that are reliable, current, and authoritative.
  • Stay focused! You'll often come across interesting tangents during your research. While these may make great future paper topics, don't spend much time on them now. Note them down for later and move on.

Additional Tips for Online Research

  • Always be sure you are using the most up-to-date and accurate information. If your data is outdated, the credibility of your entire argument may be jeopardized.
  • Whenever possible, use an original source. For example, if you're reading a report that quotes statistics that were collected by a government agency, find and cite the agency's raw data, not the report. You can never be certain that a non-original source is using the data correctly, so going to the original will avoid any potential problems of bias or inaccuracy.
  • Be aware of the reputation of your sources. Some sources, especially think tanks or advocacy groups, are known as advocates for particular viewpoints. This may cause some readers to perceive their work as biased and discount your argument because you cited them, even if the work you're citing is nonpartisan. This is another reason to always use original sources if possible. This does NOT mean you can't or shouldn't use these groups' resources if they're otherwise credible - just be mindful of the effect it may have on your audience.

Step 3: Write Your Topic

Online Resources

General Resources

Notes & Comments Manuals

Specific Issues