Getting Started with Independent Research Addressing Topics Related to Science and Society

There are many things to think about as you begin your independent project. Researchers spend a lot of time reading, thinking, discussing, and planning before they start a project. The list below will help you to understand the steps that experienced researchers follow as they prepare and carry out a project. Use the ideas presented to help plan you’re the details of your research study before you begin


Make a calendar to organize your time before you start your experiment.

Make sure to include the following:

  • Time to develop and research your question
  • Time to identify the resources you will need and where you can get them
  • Time to obtain the research sources that you need
  • Time to read and analyze your resource materials
  • Time to follow up on interesting findings
  • Time to collect and analyze the information from your sources
  • Time to think about your findings and write up your results and conclusions


What question do you want to explore? Be specific.

Research builds on what is known. Read about your topic. The more you know the better question you can come up with.

What information do you need to fairly and accurately address your question?

Where can you get the information you need? Think about things like:

  • General background information about your topic
  • What have others said about your topic
  • In addition to searching the literature, what other methods can be used to investigate your question (questionnaires, surveys, interviews, other methods)

Can your question be answered with the time and resources available to you

What preliminary information do you think you need, if any, before committing to answering your question?

Research is collaborative. Researchers learn by discussing their work with others. At each step in your planning, go over your project with your teacher. Talk to other students to get feedback about what you plan to do.


How do you intend to answer your question? Is a literature survey sufficient or do you need to collect your own information using surveys, interviews, or other methods? If so, check with your teacher about how best to proceed.

What will you need to investigate your question? Do you have access to a computer, the Internet, scholarly books and journals?

Do you need any special resources (books, journals, magazines, newspaper articles)? As you investigate your question, you will find references to new resources. How will you obtain materials not in your school library – talk to your librarian about interlibrary loan and other possible options.

How will you evaluate the dependability of your resources? Not everything that is written or posted on the Internet is of equal value. Deciding what information to use from what sources is a critical step in conducting research. Using reputable and respected sources will make your work more meaningful.

Consider things like where the information is published, whether the information is an opinion or is based on facts, whether the information presented can be verified by other dependable sources, if the information is up to date, what the qualifications of the author are, and who the target audience is.

How will you collect and organize the information you collect?

How will you analyze the information you gather? Do you need statistical analysis, graphs, charts, tables etc.? Find out what types of analyses others have used to answer questions like yours.

Do you have any questions about collecting or analyzing your information? If so, write them down. Where will you get the information you need?

Discuss your proposed methods with your teacher.


Write a detailed plan for how you will proceed. Give enough information to make sure that you and your teacher understand what will be involved and how long it will take

How long will it take to gather your information and complete your research?

How much information and how many sources do you need to generate reliable information that you can analyze?

What do you need to do to prepare? (Identify sources, obtain access to resources, other)

Who will be involved in carrying out your research? Can you do it alone or do you need help, for example from your librarian (to obtain materials) or math teacher (for statistical analyses) or social studies teacher (for social analysis) or science teacher (to help with science questions) or other students (for surveys or questionnaires)?

What will be the final product of your research – research paper, Powerpoint presentation, video, multimedia combination, other?


Are you following your research plan?

Do you need to modify your research plan?

When carrying out research, sometimes things happen that require researchers to reevaluate the methods or sources being used. When necessary, you can make changes to your procedure, but make sure you stay focused on your original question and hypothesis.

Are you generating enough information to provide a meaningful answer to your question?

Do you have enough information and sources to allow you to reach a conclusion regarding your question?


What kind of information do you plan to gather and where will you find it?

How much information will you need?

How will you organize and analyze your information?

How will you know when you have enough information to the answer to your original question?

Will you need to create a graph or chart or table to summarize your information? If so, how will you do it? If needed, make a table or chart for collecting your information BEFORE you start collecting your information

How will you be confident that your information is reliable? (What’s the difference between “accurate” and “reliable”?)

What will you do if it’s not the answer you expected?


How will you interpret your findings and reach well supported conclusions?

How will you insure that your final product (paper, presentation, other) accurately reflects your research findings?

How will you present and share your research?

  • Paper
  • PowerPoint
  • Poster
  • Publication
  • Other