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First Year Seminars: FYS 106-3 STEM

The Research Process

Plan: Choosing a Topic

Settling on a topic for your SL presentation may or may not be a daunting part of the process.

If you've already got an idea in mind, great! Go with it!

If not, here are a few popular scientific sources that may help with your brainstorming. Look at what they've been publishing recently and see if anything resonates with you.

Focus: Finding Background Information

It's important to bring yourself up to speed on a new topic by establishing a baseline understanding. This step usually involves finding definitions for various terms and concepts, getting a general sense of the history of the issue, learning about notable researchers associated with the topic, and identifying further readings. Here are two good starting places for background information:


Google is going to be a useful tool for settling on a topic and finding some basic background information to support your research. The best thing about Google is also its biggest drawback: it searches so much information at once that it risks overwhelming you with results.

If you want to become a Google expert, try using a site search to eliminate useless noise and leave yourself with just the kinds of results you want to see. A site search tells Google to only give you results that match a specific URL or top-level domain that you specify. The syntax looks like this:

site:url_whatever keywords you would normally enter

  • robot-assisted surgery will only give you college and university websites that talk about robot-assisted surgery
  • algorithm bias will only give you New York Times articles about the impacts biased algorithms have on society

Gale eBooks

We individually selected each of the encyclopedias and reference sources you'll find in this online database. Just use the search box to locate short encyclopedia entries on your topic. You can even use the references at the bottom of any encyclopedia entry to learn about other books or articles worth reading.


If you're just searching for books, music scores, DVDs, or music CDs in our collection, then MUSCAT Plus will be your best option. The catalog also contains all of the e-books we subscribe to, and you're able to read those anywhere at any time.

Develop: Finding Journal Articles

The library's databases can help you identify appropriate sources for your student-led discussions and group projects. You'll notice that we have nearly 300 databases and that some of them have a narrow disciplinary focus. Here are a few recommendations to help you get started:



For a good idea of what databases are generally available in the STEM field that interests you most, use the "All Subjects" dropdown menu on the library databases page to select a discipline (e.g., "Biology" or "Mathematics").

Reading Article Abstracts

Original research articles tend to use a consistent structure when presenting information:

  • Introduction: What's been done before? What is the researchers' hypothesis?
  • Methods: Exactly what did the researchers do to test their hypothesis?
  • Results: What did they find when doing the experiment or study?
  • Discussion: What do those results mean, and why do they matter?

If you want to decide whether an article is relevant for your work without reading the whole thing, the best piece of advice is read the article's abstract (the one-paragraph summary authors write to provide an overview of what they did and what they found).

Just like the rest of the paper, the article's abstract should follow the same overall structure of Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, which you can see below:

Article abstract with sentences corresponding to the Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections highlighted in different colors.

Important: Take note of how the results (what the researchers actually found) comes relatively late in the paper. This is the good stuff that you want to understand before you cite the paper.