How to Conduct Academic Research

Posted date: June 21, 2017


Students and teachers in all colleges and universities around the world keep struggling to conduct a thorough and critical analysis of various academic problems. In fact, conducting academic research is one of the major difficulties a student may face in university. Just imagine that you need to analyze your issue, gather information, analyze and interpret it, and make inferences and conclusions. See below the main steps to follow when doing academic research.


Define the question, issue, or topic you want to explore. At times, your professor will tell you what topic you must analyze. At other times, you will be free to choose one. In any case, your task is to narrow down your research topic to the extent, which allows conducting a thorough analysis of information and literature. At the same time, if you decide to choose a topic on your own, it should be something that stirs your imagination and makes you wonder about the world you are in.

Primary or Secondary Research?

Understand how primary research differs from secondary studies. Primary research is when you do your own original study and use the data to make inferences and conclusions. This is what you bring with you and add to the current body of scientific literature.

In contrast, secondary research is when you use the information provided by other researchers and in other published sources. In other words, you are using the information available in other published articles. You use this information to develop your understanding of the topic and make relevant conclusions.

See how much time you have to conduct your research and how much information you need for it. For example, your professor may ask you to use at least 20 sources, or it can be enough to include 5 published studies. It depends! Be realistic about the scope and timeline of your project.

Develop a realistic project schedule. It must include the following components: 1. Information search and analysis. 2. Information processing and note making. 3. Draft writing. 4. Editing and proofreading the draft. 5. Reviewing the final version according to the formatting requirements for MLA, APA, or any other format requested by your tutor.

When considering the scope of your project, you will need to review the subject, as well as the requirements for your project. Of course, if you need to write 80 pages, the scope of your paper will be much broader than if you need to write only 3-5 pages. However, at times, writing 3 pages is more difficult than creating a 100-page dissertation, because when you are limited in scope and time, you have to be much more thorough and selective with the things you intend to cover in your academic research.

Create a research question and define the purpose and objective of your research. You will then use this information to develop a strong thesis statement. Your thesis statement is not simply a combination of facts you intend to cover in your study. Rather, it is a reflection of your position, an argument you will need to defend in the body of your work. For example, 'The events during the Civil War marked a new stage in the democratic development of America." Your academic research will be tied to the thesis statement.

See where you can locate reliable and credible sources. You cannot do any academic research without considering the quality and reliability of your information. The Internet is a good place for academic research, but definitely not the best one. Try to seek beyond the readily available Internet sources.

Your professor will tell you how many sources you must use in your project. Tutors usually specify the types of sources that can be used, for example, books or peer-reviewed articles. You are not allowed to use Wikipedia or similar sources.

You may want to access and use the scholarly database available in your university or college. You will find plenty of available information and will be able to use it in academic research. It is always good to do some preliminary research and see what sources you can access and use to complete your project. You may need to make notes, read through the papers of other scholars, and even think of conducting your own experiment to add to the current body of literature.

Now that you have all sources in place, read them attentively. See whether they provide the information needed to answer your research question. Also, consider the quality of each source. A peer-reviewed journal article will definitely differ from a simple expert opinion found online. You will need to learn how to make notes. You can use different methods to find the most important information and organize it into something more systematic and relevant to your topic. Do not be afraid of quotes. Paraphrase. However, do not forget to credit your sources.

Note the following: 1. Common knowledge and facts. 2. Quotes that can support your argument and come from renowned experts in the field. 3. Explanations and summaries of different arguments.

Do not overuse quotes. Use paraphrasing and summarize what other people have said regarding your topic. When making notes, point out the page number or chapter where you have taken the information. Use the URL for each Internet source. Your readers must be able to find the source if needed. All sources must be organized in the order of their relative priority, from the most to the least relevant.

Add new sources as you keep working with the older ones. While making notes, you may notice that you need more information. Search for more explanations and expert opinions. Set an appropriate context for your academic research. Pay attention to the different ways in which different scholars interpret your topic. Weight the relative importance of these sources, according to their quality and credibility. 

While making notes, do not forget about your research question. Everything revolves around it. Develop a thesis statement and use it as guidance when collecting and analyzing your sources. You may need to spend most of your time reading and making notes. Writing will take less time if you know what to write and what information to include in your study.

Now when you have a lot of information with you, you can develop a debatable thesis statement. Then you can start working on the draft of your research project. You will now have to retell what you have learned while gathering and reading your sources. Share the results of your academic research with your readers. Link them to a broader context; identify and analyze causal links; explain reasons behind various phenomena; be critical and analytical in your claims.

Sometimes, your professor will ask you to conduct a review of literature. Your paper will have a literature review section, where you will analyze the latest findings in your field of study. When the first draft is finished, you can add paraphrases and quotes. They should be smoothly incorporated into your argument. Use signal verbs and words to identify the text you have borrowed from other sources.

Don’t forget about citations. Everything that is not yours must be cited and referenced according to the formatting and style requirements provided by your tutor. Then you will need to create a list of references or a works cited page. Keep writing the draft, refine and edit it step by step.

When revising the draft, check if the contents of your research project relates to your thesis and research question. See if you have included enough information to create a compelling argument. Edit and proofread every word and sentence. See if you have included transitions to make your argument smooth. Check punctuation and spelling.

Now you have everything to complete the draft of your paper. Remember that dozens of people will read and analyze what you have written. It is not about grading. It is about the value your project can add in the context of your subject of discipline. Follow the formatting requirements provided by your teacher. Check if you have included a properly formatted title page, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, and a list of references. Headings and subheadings should be organized according to your professor's requirements.