When beginning an investigation, archaeologists will first consider what it is that they want to accomplish and what is already known about the subject, and then create a research design to obtain the new information.
Sometimes projects are initiated as a result of construction or other activity that may destroy a site. Such work is usually done as part of " Cultural Resource Management." For example, if the Department of Transportation will be building a new road through an area, archaeologists will conduct a survey of the proposed route. In this case, the archaeologists are looking to see if any archaeological sites are known from the area. If there are sites, the archaeologists will learn as much as they can about the sites, and may conduct excavations there to recover information about the past cultures that created the sites. Such investigations are required where state or federal money is involved in projects that might affect archaeological sites.
At other times, archaeologists have a specific research question that they want to explore. In this case, they may need to find specific information to address their questions. For example, if they want to know where people lived during the winter in Wisconsin, they might consider examining some of the many rockshelters in the state that could have provided shelter. They may develop a research design to conduct excavations at some of these sites, they may examine materials that have been previously recovered from such sites, or they may consider other ways of answering their questions.