How to Do Research: The Critical First Two Steps

How to do research in an easy way? The following critical first two steps will reduce your anxiety in doing research especially during the new normal where there are pandemic-related constraints.

Students new to the scientific world can research by applying the following simplified steps. But these steps are not carved in stone. You can skip some if you already did some work on your research topic.

Yes, everything starts with a research topic. A research topic is a phenomenon that you want to understand and give light so that you and others who are interested in that topic will understand better.

Why is there a need for us to do research? There must be a reason for doing it. And that brings us to the first step of the research process – the purpose.

All right. Let’s proceed to the steps where the first is about a clear concept of your research purpose. I provide a specific example for each step of the process.

First Two Steps on How to Do Research

Step 1: Have a clear purpose

You can’t just do any research without a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Just researching for its sake is a waste of time, money, and effort.

Start with a clear focus of what you intend to accomplish after doing the research activity.

For example, there is a current difficulty educating the students during the pandemic. So what are the options or solutions to address the difficulty?

The difficulty, in itself, is so broad a topic. What kind of difficulty would that be? You can view this difficulty using different perspectives. It may be difficulty encountered by a teacher, a student, an administrator, or a parent.

Narrowing down the research topic

Since you, perhaps, is a graduate student who wants to research to complete your thesis requirement, we can adopt that view at this time. We will be using your perspective in the example I will illustrate in the next sections.

Using your perspective as a graduate student of education, taking higher-level educational theories that explain how learning works, you might want to find out which of the current theories or learning models works best in online learning.

Given the constraint of the virtual classroom, will the students learn better on their own with the teachers’ guidance? Are online learning modules much more effective (or less effective) in imparting learning to the students?

Is it possible that students, with a well-written and well-prepared instructional module, can learn more independently and maximize the use of online learning resources? For all we know, today’s generation of learners may learn better and faster using internet technology.

With proper guidance, the next generation of learners can learn a great deal about this world through their mobile phones. They were born at such a time that these nifty gadgets gained popularity. This technology has matured a great deal that there is no going back to the old belief that teachers are authorities of knowledge. Teachers nowadays serve best as facilitators of knowledge as information is easily accessible.

Given this information and queries about online learning, you would want to know if indeed someone inquired on this concern. Hence, you now have a preliminary research topic.

Why is this still referred to as a preliminary topic? That’s because you don’t know yet what the other researchers have done about this specific concern.

So what will be your next step? The next step will be to clearly define the topic after having a clear research purpose.

Purpose of the research

So what is the purpose of your research based on the stated example in the preceding paragraph?

The purpose is to find out if students learn better using online learning modules than the conventional face-to-face interaction.

Thus, in the final part of the introduction of the research paper, you can write the following statement:

This study intends to compare online and traditional learning as perceived by graduate students who enrolled a semester before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. This statement delimits the study to graduate students enrolled in a university who have taken subjects a semester before and after the onset of the pandemic.

Step 2: Develop your research topic

The development of a research proposal requires iteration or changes as you proceed with your research venture. The second step on how to do research is to develop your research topic.

Since you have already stated your purpose, how will you be able to develop the research topic?

The Importance of literature review

Google Scholar is an excellent source of scientific information.

For sure you don’t want to do something which has already been done before. So how can you make sure that nobody has yet done such research? Or perhaps, if there is published literature about it, those are not conclusive, or there are still research gaps to be fulfilled. For sure, you don’t want to duplicate the work of others.

The answer is: review related literature on your research topic. Researchers nowadays are fortunate that scientific articles are readily available because of the easy internet access to both open access and paid scientific literature.

Google Scholar as a rich source of information

A lot of scientific publications are now available online. The most comprehensive source out there is Google Scholar. It compiles virtually all published scientific articles, books, and other references. I am fond of using this as it is easy to cite sources, and abstracts are available.

See the video below on how to copy and paste the source of your reference materials to come up with a comprehensive list of scientific literature.

As you read the references, you will understand the topic that you are concerned about or interested in. For our example on how to research online learning, here are examples of titles and abstracts that are relevant by typing the phrase “comparison of online and traditional learning”:

We’re in luck as the first article that Google Scholar returned is very much relevant. And that’s a complete paper provided free online. Just click the link below if you want to read the abstract.

Perceptions of Distance Learning: A Comparison of Online and Traditional Learning (Hannay & Newvine, 2006)

Ideal time frame of the literature review

However, reading through the abstract, I noticed that the date of publication is 2006. I prefer references that are recent, i.e., from 2017 to 2021. I will set the Google Scholar search date to that date range.

But wait.

Will the 2006 article be of use to me?

If you have read the abstract upon clicking the link I provided, you will discover that students strongly prefer distance education. Online learning allows them to balance their commitments more easily. That’s an advantage of online or distance learning.

Similarly, they believe that they achieve higher quality educational outcomes in the distance learning environment.

Great! That means we’re on the right track.

The example title and abstract corroborate what I had in mind having clearly defined the purpose of the study. I can still use this abstract to go on with the development of the research topic. I can read the methodology part to get an idea of how to sample a population and make comparisons.

Quickly reading the methodology, I learned that the authors used a 22-question survey, and 217 students answered the questionnaire. These are good ideas that tell me I will be administering around that number of questionnaires to compare. I can then prepare a proper budget estimate to fund my study.

Insights from the literature review

Note that the research on online learning describes the benefits of distance education using the student perspective. At this point, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to find out the teachers’ viewpoint, too. Do they find online learning a good way to teach students?

During the pandemic, teachers who find themselves doing well in face-to-face interactions would be shocked to adopt the asynchronous or modular learning approach. They need to prepare instructional modules that will guide students to learn on their own.

On my part, this mode presented an opportunity to develop further the instructional modules I have been trying to work on since a decade ago. I came up with the online learning approach that I named Blended Website Learning Model. I find it very much effective.

These ideas popped into my mind while writing this article. While trying to develop the topic, many other things come to mind. These helpful insights facilitate topic development on online and traditional learning. You can use these ideas to revise your research topic as you see fit.

These first two steps on how to do research will surely make your research venture a worthwhile one. Research topics take time to develop. Hence, have patience reading the literature based on an initial idea that aims to contribute to the body of knowledge.

After having a good grasp of the literature on online and traditional learning, the next step is to develop the conceptual framework of the study.


Hannay, M., & Newvine, T. (2006). Perceptions of distance learning: A comparison of online and traditional learning. Journal of online learning and teaching, 2(1), 1-11.

© P. A. Regoniel 1 August 2021