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Managing Research Projects

See the big picture

terrain mapsWhen planning a hike, look at a map to see the "big picture" of where you plan to hike and areas to avoid.

The same is true when planning a research project.

Make sure you see the big picture of what is involved.

What are the expectations of the project?

  • What does the description of the project say are the requirements or expectations? (e,g, assignment in a syllabus, goals of a grant, application for an internship, journal article requirements, art installation for a site, etc.)
  • Write the description of the project and the expectations in your own words.

What is the scope of the project?

  • What is should be included in the project?. For example:
    • a thesis of 10,000 words on the topic of the underground railroad
      • write about friendships between black and white conductors and what drew them together
    • a literature review, introduction, abstract, references
  • What does not go, or should not be included, in the project?
    • Is an annotated bibliography needed?
    • Do I need info about economic factors related to the underground railroad? Probably not.

Research Paper Calculator

Use a calculator like the ones above to lay out a timeline that works for you, taking into account when you'll have more and less time for the project. Below is a sample timeline by month, laying out tasks relating to research, reading, and writing. 

Research project timeline by month

Develop a Research Question


Read Chapters 3 and 4 of The Craft of Research  

1, "Finding a Topic for a First Research Project in a Particular Field

Start by listing topics relevant to your particular class and that interest you, then narrow them to one or two promising ones. If the topic is general, such as religious masks, you’ll have to do some random reading to narrow it. But read with a plan:

  • Skim encyclopedia entries in your library or online. Start with standard ones such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica . Then consult specialized ones such as the Encyclopedia of Religion or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Skim headings in specialized indexes such as the Philosopher’s Index, Psychological Abstracts, or Women’s Studies Abstracts. Use subheadings for ideas of how others have narrowed your topic.
  • Google your topic, but not indiscriminately. Use Google Scholar, a search engine that focuses on scholarly journals and books. Skim the articles it turns up, especially their lists of sources.

When you know the general outline of your topic and how others have narrowed theirs, try to narrow yours. If you can’t, browse through journals and websites until your topic becomes more clearly defined. That takes time, so start early."

Read chapter 3 of The Craft of Research for more detailed concrete steps and suggestions.

2. Develop a question

3. State the significance of the topic. Why is important to study the topic you identified?

Booth, Wayne C., et al. The Craft of Research, University of Chicago Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from spu on 2021-01-26 10:33:28.

Dream and make notes

  • Set aside a block of uninterrupted time to mull over stuff.
  • Scribble ideas down, all of them, related to the project.
  • Write down important phrases.
  • Create a document (spreadsheet, Word, Google Doc, pad of paper - whatever works for you) where you keep track of the terminology (keywords) you use for searches and the kinds of results those terms provide).
  • Try using a concept map to see the big picture of your topic.

concept map example

What resources do you need

tool drawer

Consider what tools and resources you will need for your project.

For example: 

  • Books
  • Articles
    • peer reviewed
    • empirical research articles
  • Databases to search
  • Primary, secondary, or tertiary resources
  • Permission from the IRB - Institutional Research Board
  • or more



Research is messy

Picture of Research Process


So, make a plan. (Right click and click on "Open link in new tab" in order to not lose track of the Managing Research Projects subject guide)


Talk to a librarian to help guide you on resources you should consider consulting.


For concrete details and suggestions, read Chapter 5, "From Problems to Resources," in The Craft of Research 

Emotions while researching

Research is not only messy, it can be emotionally taxing.

Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions as you begin the search for information. Dr. Carol Kuhlthau, Professor Emerita at Rutgers University, developed this 6 stage model to explain the affective (feelings), cognitive (thoughts) and physical (actions) common to each stage of researching.


model of the information search process