Getting Started With Thesis Research

  1. Begin with a topic area that intrigues you: a person, event, culture, movement, issue, innovationů. Read a summary of this area in several specialized encyclopedias or surveys.
  2. Start brainstorming with others and begin a research log. Make notes of your ideas as well as of particular sources you learn about and want to peruse.
  3. Transform the topic area into several interesting questions. Then write down several intriguing subquestions that occur to you. For a 12-15 page term paper, select one of these subquestions to concentrate on. This will become your "real" topic, although you will probably focus it even further in the course of your research. For a junior paper or senior thesis, select two or more subquestions to explore; each section or chapter of your project can address a separate subquestion.
  4. Think about what information you would like to discover in order to answer your subquestion(s).
  5. Speculate about the sources where that information might be found:
    1. a.What physical formats do you expect are relevant: books, periodical or newspaper articles, what else?
      b.What kinds of sources you would like to provide that information: Is their nature primary, secondary, or a mix of both?
  6. How much information do you expect to need?
  7. What time factors affect your research:
    1. a.When are your deadlines?
      b.What are the important dates surrounding your subquestion(s)?
      c. How current do you wish your sources to be?
  8. What biases are likely to be present in your sources of information?
  9. Who cares? What disciplines, organizations, institutions, or experts have ever been concerned with your subquestion(s)?
  10. What types of hybrid, fact, and finding reference tools do you think you will need in the course of your research, either to verify details or to identify relevant sources?
  11. If you have not already done so, discuss your thoughts at this point with your professor or adviser.
GHRD / Firestone Library
Princeton University