"Take Five!" Research Process
For a quick review of the "Take 5"
research process, click
Knowing when you need information, how to find it, and
being able to evaluate and organize are important skills.
Information literacy enhance our personal lives, school work, and
careers. Thinking about "research" as a process helps. The most
popular method presented in schools is the
Big6. "Take Five!"
presents a simple system that emphasized research as a series of
tasks. The results can be used to create any type of project.
We will not talk about the final product here -- it
may be a report, speech, multi-media project, Web page, video, or any
other type of presentation. We will focus on gathering and
evaluating information before actually using that information.
Different projects, in different formats, require different
approaches. If you want more information about writing, please
check out our
Mr. B's Writing Quick Tips for
some "tips & tricks" and links to other Websites that cover virtually
all aspects of a writing project.
"Take Five!" Research Process
- Define Need
- Locate Sources
- Document Sources
While we have presented these processes as a numbered
list, in practice, it is not sequential. We are defining a set
of tasks. At any point in the process, it may be valuable or
appropriate to "revisit" what we have done. Preliminary research
can help us shape and refine our need or topic. The availability
of suitable sources may require us to do more preliminary research to
help us discover better keywords and subject headings. To get
the most out or "Take Five!," do not consider it a linear set
Task 1: Define Need
or Topic. The first part of any research project is to think
about what you want to accomplish. In school, teachers often
assign topics or general subject areas. Most of us will enjoy a
project more if it is based on something we are personally interested
in. When looking for ideas for topics or themes, there are Web
sites that can help, try
Hot Paper Topics,
Task 2: Preliminary
Research. Let's look at an example. Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. lived a rich life that touched many people. The
life and times of Dr. King could support a wide array of topics.
It's a good idea to do a little preliminary research on a general
topic BEFORE selecting a specific topic. This helps us think
about what aspects of our general topic will be most interesting.
Consulting an encyclopedia can be a great way to do some quick, basic
research. Be sure to check out the reference section of your
library or try
Task 3. Locate Sources.
Once you have a fuller understanding of what you are looking for, it
will be easier to do meaningful research. Use a variety of
sources in different formats -- a reference librarian or library media
specialist can help you get started finding material in their
collection. Libraries are organized to provide "intellectual
access" to resources. This means that information is organized
so that you can find it based on ideas, topics or information needs.
For information about search strategies, check out the
links to resources at our
research/reference page. You will find basic and
advanced search strategies as well as sources for a variety of
information in various formats.
versus Subject Headings
Most of us are familiar with keyword searches, where
computers scan for the occurrence of terms in a document.
Keyword searches can be good places to start and represent how most
search engines like
MSN Search, and
Ask Jeeves work.
You can also do keyword searches in most electronic library catalogs,
but to really take advantage of how libraries are organized, you have
to look for subject headings.
The problem with keyword searches is that many search
terms will appear in a variety of different contexts from different
documents. Keyword searches can generate many results, but the
results may represent such a broad range of topics that the search
becomes unmanageable. For example, a search on AIDS will retrieve
items on aids for the hearing impaired, school aids, AIDS (the
Professional librarians organize collections by
subject headings, carefully used terms that collect resources that
relate to specific topics. The advantage of using subject
headings is that, once you locate appropriate subject heading for your
search, the results will be more useful for your research. When
using an online library catalog, try using keyword searches to get
started. When you find a good resource for your needs, see what
subject headings have been used to catalog it. Then, do a
subject heading search for similar resources. Usually, this just
requires clicking on those subject headings, conducting a new search.
You can also try to use these subject headings as
keywords searches too. Many documents that present common or
overlapping information will not appear together in searches that are
done by keywords. Subject headings provide connections between
similar resources, even when these documents do not contain the same
keywords or rankings.
Library collections are organized so that information
can be located by subject (cataloging or "intellectual access") and by
looking at books on shelves, called browsing (classification).
Check out the
Library Media page at
for more information about how libraries
catalog and classify information. Of course, you
could just talk to your friendly, helpful local librarian too!
Taking Notes: Paraphrase
Be sure to take careful notes, being sure to keep
track of what information comes from each source. DO NOT "COPY &
PASTE" OR TAKE NOTES WORD FOR WORD from a given source unless you
intend to directly quote and fully cite a source. Write your
notes in your own words; this is called paraphrasing. Not only
does this help you better understand the information, it helps avoid
problems with plagiarism (stealing someone else's work).
Start by getting the basic facts, dates, statistics,
definitions, and general background information together. Basic
reference books are a great source to document general facts; these
will provide guides to locate more in-depth information about a topic.
When researching a controversial topic, it is especially important to
obtain fact and details from sources that will be acceptable to people
with different views on the topic.
The Internet is full of sources, though it will be an
advantage to have basic facts documented before going online.
Remember, information on the 'net may or may not be "refereed,"
meaning edited and fact-checked, by others. Having basic facts
BEFORE checking the Internet will help us when we get to our next
task, evaluating the information we find. For now, be sure that
online sources generally agree with facts from other sources.
Don't forget databases either. Wisconsin provides access to a
number of high-quality information database resources bundled together
Many libraries and school also have subscriptions for other academic
and professional database.
Task 4: Evaluate
Information. Not everything we read is generally accepted as
correct, especially when using the Web. Traditional print
sources (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) have editors and
publishers that work with authors to be sure information reflects
standards -- this doesn't mean that the information is "better" or
"more true." It means that we can easily identify sources and
judge the quality of these source based on the publisher's reputation.
Savvy information users evaluate ALL information they find based on:
- Accuracy. The first step when evaluating is
to be sure that information generally agrees. This is why
starting a research project by looking at the reference section in a
library is a good idea.
- Basic information and concepts should be the same from source
to source. If not, be careful.
- Sources that contain errors, even many "typos," should be used
with care. After all, if a source did not take the time to
verify the basics and present it in reasonably correct form, why
should anyone believe the rest of the information in that6 source.
- Always look to see if a source is advocating and idea or
contains bias. Be careful when a source has an "agenda" or
strong point of view. The information may or may not be
good. It is likely that the information does not fully
present other points of view.
- Authority. Why is this source qualified to give you
information? Are they an "expert?" If so, are their
credentials clearly identified? Are they affiliated by another
organization, company, or institute? If so, is there bias?
- Can you tell who is the publisher? This is easy with
traditional print sources, but can be difficult on the Web.
- Is there contact information? Does the author indicate
that they are open to hearing from others or fielding requests for
clarifications or additional information?
- Content. What type of information is being presented and
how does the author intend the information to be used? Does
the author identify any limitations for their work?
- Who is the intended audience? Students should be careful
that sources are appropriate for their grade level.
- Is the purpose of the information to inform, advocate, or
sell? This usually determines it completeness. In
general, sources that only seek to inform present a more balance
view than those that promote ideas or sell products and services.
- Currency. Information has a time value -- even
historical information get reviewed and revised over time.
Just because an idea was generally accepted in the past does not
mean it is accepted today.
- Some information can come from older sources and still be
valid. Try to find current information.
- Dates of birth and death and some other types of facts are
likely to be accurate even when a reliable source becomes old.
- Be careful, some information from older sources has little or
no value today. Traditional print sources clearly
identify when they were published -- be careful with Web pages.
If you cannot identify the date that a site was created or
updated, it is probably not a good source. Check the links on a
Web page; if they do not work or are not being kept up to date,
the rest of the information is probably not being updated either.
- Documentation. Even when a site is accurate, has
authority, is content appropriate, and current; be sure to look for
documentation where the author obtained their facts.
When a source intends to inform, the author usually identifies their
sources or resources for further study.
- Does a source contain a bibliography or identify the sources
that were used to create a resource? Does this list of
sources appear fairly comprehensive or balanced?
- Are the sources that were used to create a resource also
reasonably current? If other Web pages are part of the
list of sources, are they still working links?
Task 5: Document
Sources. Keeping track of where information comes from is an
important part of the research process. Representing the work of
another person as your own is plagiarism -- it is stealing.
Students can expect to be disciplined or receive failing grades if
they plagiarize. It is also possible to be sued. Like
every other law, copyrights demand compliance. Using someone
else's work without permission or under "fair use" without citing the
source if a violation of intellectual property rights. For more
information about copyrights, check out the
copyright issues link at
On a more positive note, documenting sources when
conducting research makes the job easier. Few things will be
more frustrating than having to go back and find the original source
from some fact, figure, quote, or piece of information AFTER deciding
to use that material in a project. It is much easier to keep
track of where ALL information comes from BEFORE starting to create a
project. Keeping track of sources while gathering information
will also make it easier to go back and review good sources to pick up
more good information. Always carefully document the sources
that are used when researching.
Teachers often have expectations as to what types of
sources are valid for a term paper or presentation. Many
projects, especially those done in school, will have standard formats
to organize and cite information. If a format is specified, it
will be helpful to write down source documentation in the required
format -- this will make it less likely that a given resource will
need to be looked up again because important information is missing.
The most common formats for documentation are
Whether taking notes on note cards, paper, or
computer, clearly identify where information comes from, carefully
including all information that will be required to cite that source.
Be sure that you know what format you will use to cite sources or
create a bibliography. This will make it less likely that you
will forget important information that is required to properly cite
Conclusion. Do you see that our "Take
Five!" research process is designed to help clarify an information
need before actually conducting a full-scale search. Before you
fully decide on a topic; be sure to do some preliminary research,
after all, it will be much easier to create an interesting topic when
you check your understanding before committing yourself to an
extensive research project. Our process focuses on defining
needs and then finding sources.
We have chosen to omit how this information is used to
create a specific project, because once we have defined a need,
located appropriate resources, and documents our resources, we are
ready to put that information to work creating any number of projects.
Just remember, sometimes things do not go as planned. Our
process is presented as a set of tasks, not a series of steps.
At any point, the research process may require us to reevaluate our
topic, sources, or how we have evaluated them.