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The Research Process

A guide to help develop skills in how to develop a research question and find resources to support your thesis.


Graduate research and the process of writing a thesis or dissertation involve developing advanced skills in managing information in the following ways: 
•    gathering 
•    organizing 
•    analyzing 
•    synthesizing 
•    creating 
•    sharing 
•    communicating

This requires many specialized skills, often discipline-specific, as well as productivity skills such as time management, team building, and stress management.  

The research process is a continuous, not linear, progression. You check and re-check, evaluate and analyze, and repeat the process as needed. It can be time-consuming and challenging, but the process is what enables writers to become subject matter experts and write with confidence.

Click each tab in the section below to view the steps of the research process in brief. Click the navigation tabs on the left side of the page for expanded information on each step.

Steps to Research Process Overview

The first step to research is to understand the assignment. Has the topic been defined by the professor or do you need to choose a topic?

If the topic is assigned, your first task will be to extract the key concepts to search so you can focus on the search strategy.

Choosing your own topic requires more work. 

After choosing a topic and foundational searching, add focus with a research question.

  • Determine and evaluate your research question.
  • Hypothesize about the direction your answer might take.


Entering a statement or question in a library database search tool most likely will NOT result in relevant results. Library databases operate on words rather than sentences. Using keywords is a good starting point.

Develop keywords by listing the main words in your topic.

Try to search using one keyword at a time and then add keywords with AND to focus the search more narrowly.

Keep a list of your search words and try different combinations of them.

Proceed beyond simple keywords and use controlled vocabulary, or subject terms, for more focused searching. 

Once you have developed your topic and keywords, searching can begin.

Where will you search?

The library has over 300 databases that contain millions of information resources. Search them simultaneously using OneSearch, a one-stop shopping search tool found on the library homepage.

Search in an individual database by visiting the A-Z Database List linked on the library homepage. Browse the descriptions of each, or search by subject, type, and vendor...or type in the name of a database to find it.

The library creates research guides for Saybrook programs. These guides are organized by subject and contain recommended databases in your program.

Use Google Scholar to find scholarly articles but make sure you synchronize your Google Scholar settings with our library collections! The simple directions are located in the Google Scholar Search instructional guide.

When you find an article in a library database, you will have many options for what to do with it:

  • Access the article in a database.
  • View an HTML version.
  • View and download a PDF version.
  • Save it to a citation manager such as RefWorks, EndNote, Zotero, or other tool.
  • Generate a citation in APA 7th Edition format.
  • Email it to yourself.
  • Save the record in your OneSearch account.
  • Print it.
  • Find related readings in our catalog.
  • Track articles cited in the article or subsequent article citing the present article. 
  • Save your query.

NOTE: Before you can access subscription content in the library, make sure you are signed in to the library with your Saybrook email and password. From the OneSearch home page, click the Sign in option in the upper right corner.       

Finding information resources is only part of the research process. Once you find them, it is critical to make a determination about their credibility, reliability, validity, accuracy, timeliness, authority, and point of view. Even if the resource aligns with your research question, it may not necessarily be a reliable source of information for academic work.

Throughout the research process, you must keep track of all the resources you are using. Citing sources is important for several reasons:

  • To acknowledge the work of others
  • To show your reader you have done due diligence in researching your topic
  • To avoid plagiarism and uphold academic integrity
  • To enable readers of your work to seek out the sources of your information and locate them as well

Cite sources when you:

  • Use an exact quote
  • Restate or paraphrase and idea from a resource
  • Summarize a work

All sources should be included in the References page.

Citation management software and tools help you stay organized and remain true to scholarly work.