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Advanced Research & Doctoral Dissertation

The Research Process

Many doctoral students feel anxiety about what topic to select, as high-level research develops your research focus which can impact your career trajectory.  However, when you follow the research process outlined here, a topic or research question should organically arise around an area where there is a lack of information or prior research, which we call a "gap in the literature".  So I recommend just diving in to the research and reading papers in the general ballpark of your area of interest.  And really listen to your own curiosity and questions as they arise - that is your topic emerging!

Step 1 | Start with a very general topic that interests you.**

Step 2 | Identify keywords connected to the topic. 

Step 3 | Use these keywords to search for articles and books related to the topic in library databases or Google Scholar. For doctoral students it is especially important to quickly move away from keyword searches, and to follow the chain of citations, which we'll talk about more in a bit. 

Step 4 | Sometimes, your searches will lead you to change your research topic. This is healthy! Just go back and adjust your search accordingly. During steps 4 & 5, you should begin to notice your own curiosity moving towards certain questions. Listen to those questions!

Step 5 | Evaluate the sources you've gathered for accuracy and relevance to your topic and cite them properly.  At this point, its a good idea to utilize any organizational structure that you've put in place. 

Step 6 | Formalize your research question(s) and begin construction of your literature review. 

the research process infographic


**For doctoral students, it is important to begin your research journal at the beginning of information gathering. Make note of any search terms, notable results, etc. This record will help you to retrace your steps in the immediate, but also to be transparent about your process later when you write about it.