In order to make a plan, and then follow the plan, you have to know what the end result should look like. Read all the instructions. Know what type of writing you are doing. Know what the research requirements are. Search out examples. Define your goals.
What are you searching for and why?
Identifying the reason you are conducting research is the first step. If you can clearly define your goals, everything else falls into place. Consider these questions:
What is your assignment asking for?
Are you conducting a literature review?
Are you writing a research paper?
Are you answering general essay questions?
Are you providing information to others?
These are only a few of the reasons you will conduct research over your college career. Each reason for writing requires its own strategy, but fortunately the techniques are similar across a variety of research practices.
How do I know what to look for?
Research may be the most time consuming part of your education. It is important to recognize that you will have to read enough material on your topic to understand all the basic information. From this basic overview, you will then have enough information to determine a specific focus for your research. Fortunately there are some tips and tricks to help you quickly master the general so you can focus on the specific. Check out the Wikipedia example tab for a step by step example on using general sources to develop a specific plan.
Focus Your Topic
Your topic needs to be tightly focused. A general search for something like The Civil War would yield hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of hits. Women nurses in the Civil War is more helpful for finding specific information. A tightly focused research question such as "What impact did women nurses have on the Union Army during the Civil War" is the most helpful.
Consider what are the most important aspects of your topic. What are you really looking for?
Consider a framework such as asking who, what, where, when, and why. Do you need up-to-date information, statistics, historical information?
Remember, no matter what the topic, specific information exists.
The Five Ws
Focusing on the five Ws helps narrow your direction.
Why – Why are you looking for the information? Are you arguing a point? Are you providing information? Are you developing a theory? Consider what you are hoping to measure, change, relate, or affect.
Who – What is the population group you are focusing on? Consider age, gender, ethnicity, social background, cultural heritage, or one of hundreds of other personal factors. Each aspect may be a keyword to include.
What – Is your research on a specific event or something specific to your identified population group? Does your research focus need to be on the Hispanic migrant movement of the 1960s or the 2010s? Each will yield very different results.
Where – Are you looking within the United States or outside? The rest of the world is a very different place, with different values and cultural ideals. Geography provides important aspects of perspective.
When – When matters. Are you looking at a change in a topic across a period of time or one small aspect? Is your research going to be on women physicians throughout history or women doctors of 18th century China? One is broad and generic while the other is very specific and narrow. Both have a place.