Research process

A lot of students are uneasy about the library research process, not knowing how or where to start.

This guide breaks the process into five easy steps:

  1. Define your topic

  2. Select the best research resources for your topic

  3. Locate the information you identify in these resources

  4. Evaluate the resources you've found

  5. Reference your research

Concepts and key terms  |  Background research  |  Sources

Concepts and key terms

Begin by clearly mapping out the concepts you want to research. This will help you identify the key terms you should use when searching databases and print research resources.

Clarify your understanding of the topic

  • What level of research does your assignment require? Is it a brief class presentation or are you preparing to write a research paper with a bibliography and footnotes?
  • What do you already know about your topic?
  • What are the main issues?
  • Does your topic deal with historical or current events?
  • Has your lecturer required that you consult certain types of materials such as popular or scholarly journals, newspapers, or a particular database?​

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Background research

Do some background reading to familiarise yourself with the topic

This will also provide you with relevant keywords or synonyms to use during database searching.

The Library has an extensive range of dictionaries and encyclopedias. Key resources include:

  • Subject dictionaries and thesauri
    • Dictionaries provide an alphabetical list of definitions of words, phrases, theories, terminology or people which can help you clarify basic information.
    • Thesauri contain subject headings which list preferred research terms, usually produced to support a research tool.
  • Encyclopaedias
    Encyclopaedias provide a condensed overview of every branch of a subject.
    • At the end of an entry there is often a list of other useful books and journal articles.
    • If you cannot find an entry for your term or concept, check the back of the last volume - there is often an index directing you to where your term is found in the encyclopaedia.
  • Handbooks and research guides
    • A handbook is a short treatise or guide-book to a subject.
    • Research guides provide an overview of the research process in a given area.​
  • Bibliographies
    Contain the history or systematic description of literature on a specific subject, including information on authorship and publication details.

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Where do you find material for defining your topic?

  • Search the Catalogue
    Try a Boolean Keyword search, combining your keyword with a type of material, e.g., encyclopedia AND women
    See also
  • Check Subject Guides
    Some subject pages feature a list of research resources for a particular topic.
  • Visit the Library
    Encyclopaedias, handbooks and dictionaries are often shelved in a library's Reference Collection. Some libraries produce bibliographies of their major print research resources.

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Course readings

Use Course readings to find:

  • Information in textbooks or course-related articles.
  • Course readings are useful for assignments or research which does not require in-depth study.
  • See also Finding items on your reading list.

Wider library collections

Use the Catalogue to find:

  • Books and journal titles held at the University of Auckland libraries collection.
  • Material recommended to you by lecturers and reading lists.
  • Annual reviews on your subject.
  • Bibliographies of books and articles on a particular topic.

Search tips

  • Once you have found the Catalogue record of a relevant book, click on the subject headings in the Details to find similar books.
  • Once you have found a useful book on the library shelf, check its contents to see if it has a bibliography - this will refer you to other books and articles.

Extend your coverage

To find coverage of all the relevant research literature on a particular subject, e.g., academic articles or conference papers, you need more than the Catalogue.


  • Provide brief descriptions of articles and other literature relevant to your field, usually grouped by subject and/or author.
  • They contain enough information for you to check the Catalogue to see if the Library has the items you want.
  • Many indexes are now available as Databases.

Abstracting journals

  • Also referred to as "abstracts".
  • Provide similar information to indexes, plus they provide a summary of the article (the abstract).
  • Abstracts are usually listed numerically, under subject groupings.
  • Many abstracts are now available as Databases.

How to find relevant indexes and abstracts

  • Try an Advanced Search within the Catalogue
    Combine your subject area with either the term abstracts or indexes, e.g., abstracts AND chem?
  • Check Subject Guides
    These list relevant databases, including indexes and abstracts.
  • Visit the Library
    Abstracts and indexes are often shelved in a separate collection within a library.
    Some libraries produce bibliographies of their major print research resources.
  • Contact us


Many indexes and abstracts are available online within library databases. Some provide the full text of the article.

Where do you find relevant databases?

  • Select the broad subject area that covers your topic from Subject Guides.
  • All subject pages list relevant databases. Use the Searching for information guides to improve your database searching.​


Check the Catalogue to see if the Library has the items you found during your searches.

  • Note the item's Location, Call Number and Status.
  • If you cannot find an item which should be available, ask Library Staff.
  • If the Catalogue shows the item is on loan, use the Request Options to recall the book for yourself.

Material from other University of Auckland campuses

If you have located material in the Catalogue which is available but held at another campus, use the Requests Options in the Catalogue to ask for intercampus delivery.


Check Articles and more within the Catalogue to see if the Library has the items you found during your searches.

Not held

If you have located material not held at the University of Auckland Library, you can use the Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery service.

Critical thinking is a necessary skill to develop as you read through all the information you've found on your topic.
You need to consider such issues as objectivity, currency of your information, and how thoroughly your topic is covered.

Print resources

  • Most research publications go through an external editing or peer review process that helps verify the authority and accuracy of the information presented.
  • Reputable newspapers and magazines check their facts.

Web resources

  • The majority of web resources lack the peer review process applied to printed academic materials or even simple fact checking.


You must evaluate anything you encounter before deciding whether you should use it in your research.

The research trail

Fully document or cite all the resources you use in your research, especially if you are quoting or otherwise using other people's work, ideas, or phrasing.

  • This includes anything you find online.
  • NOT citing the sources of your research can be considered plagiarism, a serious form of academic dishonesty and theft.
  • When photocopying articles you might use for your research make sure you write down the bibliographic details - this will save you a lot of time trying to track them down later.

Depending on the format of your assignment, you will probably compile a reference list, footnotes, a bibliography, or a combination of these.

See Academic Integrity and referencing for more information.

Last updated : 6 December 2021
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