The 5 Steps on How to Research a Topic

Researching a topic is fundamental to understanding it, which is key to a high-grade assignment for work or studies. In this research guide, you will learn how to do research, and which tools to use for your success in studies and at work.

The following are the 5 research process steps for any subject. Follow them to get the best results out of the research process:

Step 1: Pick a Topic

When choosing a topic for your writing project, you should consider these ways to do it:

  • Work Within the Assigned Parameters
    To get the best grade, follow the assignment instructions on what you should write about. However, if you weren’t given rigid limits, stick to essay-format as your safe bet.

Wonder how to write in essay form? Refer to our blog for articles such as:
How to Write a 5 Paragraph Essay

  • Select a Topic of Personal Interest
    If you force yourself to research a topic which you have no passion towards, you’re likely not to have the enthusiasm needed for in-depth research. The quality of your paper will reflect this, and your result will not receive full marks.
  • Find a Question to Answer Through the Research
    While researching, you should be asking yourself questions about the material. If you end up with an unanswered question, you’ve found your topic. These types of questions are usually those that you can find being discussed among experts in the field. Often, they’ll cover them in a lecture on YouTube, such as a TED Talk or a university campus debate.

The questions you should be asking yourself begin with:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • When?
For example, if you picked researching the current pop culture preferences of North American teenagers:

your “Who?” are teenagers;
your “What?” are pop culture preferences;
your “Where?” is North America;
your “Why?” is probably Market Research;
and your “When?” is in and around the current year.

Therefore, when you research, you will ask yourself if the data you find is connected to the answers to that line of questioning.

Step 2: Are There Enough Sources?

Try to pick a topic that will be easy to do research on. Topics that have plenty of sources are your best bet. If there aren’t enough sources, it’s possible that the topic isn’t fully backed by scientific consensus. Having limited sources also means that the statements you can make in your paper will be limited.

An example of a good topic to do research on is emotional intelligence. The first item in a Google search on this topic offers a list of the 26 best books. Immediately, you have a subject with in-depth research available to you. Because the field now has neuroscientific backing, each author is presumed to base their findings on accredited data, provided by actual scientists.

An example of a bad topic would be to argue in favor of the flat-Earth theory. The sources for that subject are people with no credentials to talk about the subject. All sources discussing the flat-Earth theory, from everyone except their proponents, agree that the Earth is not flat. There are mountains of evidence that make this an open and shut case: the debate is over — the Earth is round. No credible sources are available to back up the topic.

Step 3: Validation: Find the Best Sources

When looking for sources, you might occasionally have doubts about the credibility of what you’re reading. Some websites, some authors, and some public figures might claim to have a valid perspective. In reality, enough of them are there to make money, gain recognition, or push an agenda.

For an in-depth look at how to avoid referencing that do not qualify to be cited, check our article Credible Sources

Evaluate the information you find based on who writes it, whether or not it is an opinion, and whether or not other sources say the same thing. Also, make sure your source is educating you on a subject instead of selling you something.

If you’re looking for someplace that exclusively has credible books and other material, search using the Aleph Integrated Library System. Their website states that their system “provides academic, research, and national libraries with the efficient, user-friendly tools and workflow support they need to meet the increasing requirements of the industry today and in the future.”

Be sure to use search engines with the right keywords. The more precise the keyword, the closer you are to the source material of the topic you’re researching. If you’re doing research on the impact of caffeine on employee productivity, you should be searching for the keywords “caffeine” and “employee productivity,” because they relate directly to the topic. In this case, avoid searching for unrelated keywords such as “how to make coffee.” While it does sound relevant, making coffee has no educational input on the analysis of the effectiveness of employees under the influence of caffeine.

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Step 4: Make Notes

When you make notes during your research, you will have readily available material to refer to when structuring your paper. Be sure to write down the author, publisher, and any other relevant information to use further.

Having all the relevant facts are what you will use to build your supporting arguments. Your notes will be where you will look when you need to prepare evidence and examples for your supporting arguments.

Step 5: Organize Your Information

Arrange the data from your notes into research paper format. After analyzing everything you researched, you should have a thesis statement — a conclusive statement based where all the data points to.

Next, select the data that supports this all-encompassing statement. This will be your supporting arguments. Each supporting argument must have proof — provide at least two facts in the form of examples. Analyze the evidence of each supporting argument.

Lastly, make a conclusion containing a restatement of the thesis statement, your commentary on the results, and a call-to-action (what the reader should do, given all the evidence).

The structure should look approximately like this:

  • Thesis statement
    • 3 supporting arguments
  • Supporting argument 1
    • Evidence 1 to support SA1
    • Evidence 2 to support SA2
    • Analysis of the evidence
  • Supporting argument 2
    • Evidence 1 to support SA2
    • Evidence 2 to support SA2
    • Analysis of the evidence
  • Supporting argument 3
    • Evidence 1 to support SA3
    • Evidence 2 to support SA3
    • Analysis of the evidence
  • Conclusion
    • Restatement of thesis statement
    • Commentary that looks over the results
    • A call-to-action

For an in-depth look at how to write a research paper, take a look at our article: A Guide to How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

5 Essential Research Tools

Sometimes, the best solution to how to conduct research is to use online tools and software. We compiled a list of the 5 best tools to help you with the research process:


To help you get organized when doing research, Todoist is a popular means of organizing tasks. With it, you can set productivity goals, get notifications to remind you to do your work, and access your projects from any device.


This program will help you organize your bibliography and references. If you’re not keen on installing anything, EndNote Web will be your online research tool.


Browser-based, RefWorks helps users find the right research data, which the program organizes and stores. It also automatically generates citations for you from that data, so you’re guaranteed a ready-made bibliography.


For those of you needing to do scientific research, DataElixir offers the latest news, developments, and data in the scientific world. The website is curated once a week. To access their service, subscribe to a free weekly newsletter.


Are you ever frustrated with the paywalls that prevent you from reading the full text of a scientific paper abstract? This resource allows you access to the full text of an abstract, free of charge. Doing so helps you decide if you want to spend money on access to the entire research paper.


Researching is not the easiest task in the world. Perfecting it takes practice and effort, which will help develop a sense of intuition about credibility and relevance. If you follow the above steps on how to do research, you will be able to find the correct information on any subject. This skill is essential in most high-paying institutions and is crucial to helping you get that much-needed diploma.

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