Start your research here

Working on a research paper or project? Start here for an overview of the research process and tips for finding sources.

 Step 1: Select your topic

Start by expressing your topic or research question in a sentence. These terms are the keywords you will be using in your search strategy.

For example: 

  • I want information on the role of women in the family in 16th century Italy.
  • I need to know about the market for running shoes in Libya.

Tips for selecting the right-sized topic

Be sure that your question isn't so broad that you'll need to write a book to answer it, or that it is so focused that you won't be able to find anything to support it! Quickly reviewing a topic in an encyclopedia (including Wikipedia) can help you determine this. 

Remember that your professor or TA is the best resource for checking that your topic is appropriate.

 Step 2: Identify sources and research tools

Subject research guides

Start with the research or subject guide for your course or discipline.

SFU's subject specialist librarians create these guides to recommend the best resources for the discipline, and the best search strategies, whether you are looking for books or searching specialised databases.

Finding definitions and background information

For specific subjects or courses

Check the Background information tab on your Research or subject guide first for recommended sources to give you quick basic facts and an overview of your topic.

For topics that are general, or across disciplines

Use interdisciplinary reference sources such as directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks to get started. 

Specialised resources:

Remember that sometimes the information you want does not exist in exactly the form you would like. Instead, you will have to piece the information together by looking at and interpreting several sources.

 Step 3: Search for and find your articles and books

Start with the Books & articles tab from your subject guide for recommendations from subject specialist librarians. Or:

 Step 4: Evaluate 

You must evaluate each source to see if it is appropriate for academic research. For example, does the article you found come from a popular magazine or website or from a scholarly (academic) journal? Is the source reliable, or possibly propaganda or fake news?

To learn how to distinguish between types of journals, check the guide What is a Scholarly Journal?

The research and writing cycle

The research process is a cycle. The first time you go through these steps, you'll probably be looking for a couple of general sources on your topic. Each time you repeat the process, you learn more, enabling you to:

  • make your topic more focused, or
  • work with a different  research tool, or
  • try a different search query, using synonyms and related terms. 

Be patient! Research done properly takes a lot of time, but the reward for careful preparation is a paper which "writes itself."

 Step 5: Write and cite


The Student Learning Commons provides in-person and online academic writing support on all three campuses. Attend a workshop, book a consultation, or try online resources like A quick guide to research papers

How to cite

To properly cite your sources, see our Citation guides for information and examples on the different styles, such as APAMLA, and Chicago.

Tracking a lot of citations? For longer projects, including theses and dissertations, you may want to use citation software

 Need help?

For more help finding resourcesAsk a Librarian for help online or in person -- or go directly to our AskAway chat service.

For help with writing, study skills, time management, and more, visit the Student Learning Commons


  Use the Assignment Calculator to plan out your writing assignment

The Assignment Calculator lays out the steps for researching and writing -- from understanding your assignment to submitting it.

 The Assignment Calculator is also a quick and effective time management tool!

Just plug in your assignment due date, and get a timeline with step-by-step instructions you can download to your calendar.