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SAM 504: Industrial Ecology and the Circular Economy

A course guide for SAM 504: Industrial Ecology and Circular Economy, taught by Weslynne Ashton in Fall 2023

Step 1: Define Your Research Need

The first step in the research process is understanding your research need. What information are you lacking? What areas of your topic or research question do you still need to explore?

Depending on your class, you may have a narrowly defined user need and problem statement, or one with a wider scope. Either way, you will want to be able to articulate your area of focus in order to begin the research process.

You may need to do some background research on your topic in order to understand what questions you have - that's totally fine, and it's also okay to use Google or Wikipedia at this stage, as long as you plan to do more in-depth research later on.

Step 2: Focus Your Research

Once you have a basic understanding of your topic, start creating specific, focused questions about areas you need to understand more deeply. You should also begin thinking about where you can find the answers to your questions. Who would be interested in this information? Who would collect data on it?

In this step, it can also be helpful to create a search strategy. In a search strategy, you will think critically about the keywords in your research question, and list any synonyms, broader terms, and narrower terms. By combining not only your original search terms, but also these additional keywords, you will be able to search more effectively.

Download a blank Create a Search Strategy Worksheet to start on your own, or look at an example worksheet that has been filled in.

Step 3: Collect Information

Collect information. Now is when you'll want to do a more focused search and begin collecting sources and noting down the information you're learning. In this stage, you may start using more specific resources, like a library database or a government data portal, for example.

Search Tips

As you search, remember:

  1. Combine keywords using AND, OR, and NOT in the search bars to begin your search.
  2. Use filters like Date, Source Type, or Peer Reviewed to refine your search and find sources that fit your requirements.
  3. Review your results and adjust your keywords to find different articles based on your results.
  4. Save sources that might be useful by copying the citation or permalink, downloading the article, or emailing it to yourself.

Step 4: Iterate

Iterate throughout your search process. As you research, you may encounter new questions. As you do, make sure you're repeating steps 2-4.