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Emory Writing Center: Conducting Research

Research Help from Emory Writing Center

We provide thoughtful attention and feedback at any stage of the process. Writing tutors...

  • guide brainstorming sessions 
  • read notes and drafts
  • ask open-ended questions
  • listen attentively
  • offer encouragement about your next steps
  • refer you to subject librarians
  • teach you how to revise and edit

Writing Center graduate fellows have a lot of experience conducting research and writing research papers in multiple disciplines, but all of our tutors are trained in the basic steps to complete outstanding research papers. Most tutors are currently writing research papers of their own! Schedule an appointment today to discuss your research project with any one of our undergraduate tutors or graduate fellows.


Callaway Building

(404) 727-6451

Emory Writing Center is located in room N-212 in the Callaway Center.

The Writing Center is open Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm, Fri 10am-3pm, Sun 1-8pm.

We also have a satellite location at the main Library Service Desk, located accross the quad. 

The satellite is open Tues, Wed, Thurs: 6pm-8pm.

Step by Step

Quick guide to research projects, from topic to paper:

  1. Determine topic
  2. Collect information
  3. Evaluate sources
  4. Organize research
  5. Write paper

Online Citation Guides

Chicago Style: quick guide.

MLA Style: lite.

APA Style: tutorial.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers thorough guidance to writers using common citation styles.

Guides to Getting Started

"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after." ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Use the search tools on Emory University Library's Conducting Research page to investigate any topic.

Check out some more very helpful tips from the Search Strategies Research Guide.

  • If you find too many resources to manage, try narrowing your research topic by restricting it to a specific time period, region, or theme.
  • If you are having difficulty locating any supporting resources, try broadening your topic to a comparison of two or more time periods, regions, or themes. Of course, how you clarify your topic will depend on your discipline, but these are some basic prompts for the early stages of research. 
  • More advice on developing your topic is available from Charles Lipson, author of How to Write a BA Thesis: A Practical Guide from your First Ideas to Your Finished Paper.

Contact a librarian with a quick question or to schedule an appointment for a longer research conference.

Not familiar with research terms? Check out this cool online glossary.

Print Guides to Getting Started

Are you seeking a hard-copy guide? The library has numerous manuals for conducting research as well as for writing research papers. To find a book about research, just start by doing a discoverE search for phrases such as "writing research papers" or "how to do research," and see the results appear!

Staff Picks:

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Fulwiler, Toby, and Alan R. Hayakawa. The College Writer's Reference. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005.

Roth, Audrey. The Research Paper: Process, Form, and Content. 7th ed. New York: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1995.

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Revised 7th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Walker, Melissa. Writing Research Papers: A Norton Guide. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.

*Note: These guides are frequently updated with new editions. Manuals published after 2000 tend to have more information about doing internet research and citing electronic sources.

Starting a Project?

Q:  What is a research paper?

A:  “When you write a research paper, you have to read what authorities have written about the topic and then write an essay in which you draw your own conclusions about the topic. Since your thesis is fresh and original, you can’t merely summarize what someone else has written. Instead, you have to synthesize information from many different sources to create something that is your own” (Rozakis 4).

That description gives us clues about the major components of the research paper:

“When you write a research paper, you have to (1) read what authorities have written about the topic and then (2) write an essay in which you draw your own conclusions about the topic.”

These are the two basic parts of any research paper:  


But we don't necessarily conduct them as two discrete activities, beginning to write after our research is completed. Research and writing go on at the same time, which is one of the reasons why visits to the Writing Center and research consultations with reference librarians are helpful when spaced throughout the process of research-and-writing.

In practice, it actually looks more like this:


Q:  Once I've begun my research and I want to start shaping my argument, what are the major components of writing a research paper?

A:  “Since your (1) thesis is fresh and original, (2) you can’t merely summarize what someone else has written. Instead, you have to (3) synthesize information from many different sources to create something that is your own.”

  1. You need a “thesis.”
  2. You can’t just summarize other sources…
  3. You need to argue something unique.

As you begin your research, also begin to write. Keep a record of the keyword searches you perform in search engines (such as Google Scholar), and databases (e.g., JSTOR and Web of Science). Keep a list of sources you have read, and articles or journals you still need to investigate. Write anything--your hypothesis, your research questions, or your expectations for what kind of information you will collect. If you just research and take notes without synthesizing all the information you're gathering, weeks later you might end up with a hodge-podge of facts and no clear argument through them. However, if you evaluate your sources based on their pertinence to your research question and keep track of the different research inquiries you make, you will be streamlining your research process.

Quotations from Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Research Papers, available as an eBook.

Rozakis, Laurie. Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Research Papers. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.


Search Overview

Adapted from the Search Strategies Research Guide.

Searching at this stage of the digital evolution is not yet a seamless process. Not everything is digitized. Whatever is digitized is not necessarily in a standard format or findable by any one search interface. 

Searching is one step in most disciplinary research practices. It usually entails concurrent processes like evaluating and capturing your results. This page focuses on locating resources.

Search tips:

  • Clarify your topic or thesis. One reason for searching is to gain clarity on a research topic. And the more clarity you gain, the easier it is to search. Use a written draft of your topic as a touchstone to which you can return often to clarify and prioritize what you're searching for. Run it by your instructor or others periodically for feedback.  For quick summaries of topics, try Reference Works.
  • Keep a Search Journal.  It is easy to lose track of what searches worked or didn't work.  There a couple methods for tracking your search history.
  • Books or Articles?  Unlike the sciences, the largest proportion of scholarly work in the Humanities is published in monographs (books by a single author) rather than in journal articles. Social Sciences falls somewhere in between. Use  DiscoverE (primary tab) or WorldCat to find books; use DiscoverE (articles tab) or Google Scholar to find articles.  Google Books often publishes sections of works still in copyright, esp. introductory matter, that can often help determine if the work is worth pursuing in the libraries.
  • Find keywords in the standard vocabulary for a topic or familiarize yourself with the topic's academic context by using reference works (including Wikipedia), a discipline-specific database, or LC subject headings
    • Extract by your own analysis the keywords characteristic of a particular text or use a text mining tool like Reference Finder for small texts. See the Text Analysis guide for a comprehensive review of more powerful tools.
  • Install the Firefox extension LibX to search WorldCat, Google web or Google Scholar by simply highlighting and right-clicking on the title, author, isbn or keyword in any web page. . 
    • Also note that at the bottom of search results in DiscoverE, you'll see links to search Google Scholar or WorldCat or GIL (Georgia Interconnected Libraries) with your search terms already embedded.
  • Follow citation links or "related record" links if available in a search result from a database.  See the Citation Tracking guide.
  • Target reviews as well as the original articles and monographs, esp. in article databases that give you the option to select reviews as a search option.
  • Cross disciplinary boundaries, e.g., for a humanities-related topic, also search social science, business and science-centered databases as categorized in the subject indexes of Databases@Emory
  • Go off the grid and look up works in discoverE that are available only in print and/or indexed only in print.  
    • Archives and primary sources: If you need to find primary sources or rare or unique or ephemeral or "gray" material, see this guide.
  • Consult online directories which offer organized categories of resources in specific fields of study. They may sometimes be more efficient than using search engines.  Look for a discipline-specific directory in Libguides or Google or try the comprehensive directories of scholarly resources organized by general subject areas like Academic Info.
  • Unlock the "deep" structure of Database search interfaces. Checking for the standard features like controlled vocabulary, boolean operators, limiters and wildcard characters should help you familiarize yourself with a new database quickly.
  • Evaluate your results: For guidance, see UC Berkeley's Critical Evaluation of Resources, Cornell's Critically Analyzing Information Sources, or Cornell's Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages.
  • Capture your results: Use bibliographic software like Zotero or Endnote to capture print or online book and journal citations or full-text articles and to automatically generate footnotes and reference lists.  You can use Zotero also to annotate your readings or share your bibliographies online with others.
  • If you need help with a specific source or search strategy, don't hesitate to contact the Reference Desk or the relevant subject liaison.
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