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Research Process: Topics

Often, the hardest part of the research process is coming up with an appropriate topic. Below are some tips to help you in choosing one.

  • Pick something that interests you.
  • Define it well--not too broad, not too narrow.
  • Check reference works to gain background knowledge. Knowing the basics about a topic can help you narrow it sufficiently.
  • Come up with a couple of ideas for topics. Then do some preliminary searching in the QuickSearch online catalog and an appropriate periodical database or two to see which topic is easiest to find the most information on most quickly--Choose that! 
  • Be prepared to change your topic if you cannot find enough information on it.
  • Be ready to ask for help from your professor or a reference librarian.

After topic selection, the next most difficult task is determining which words or phrases to use in searching. Here are some tips to help you with this:

  • Write down your topic. If it is a topic given to you by a teacher, write it in your own words to make sure you understand it.
  • Now circle the main words in the topic. The circled words will be your initial search terms.
  • Write down as many synonyms for your circled words as you can. You will probably need to do more than one search and these synonyms will come in handy for that.

  • Never just type your whole topic into a database search box. While this technique may work on Google, if used in the QuickSearch online catalog or our subscription databases, it is guaranteed to fail.
  • In your initial search, use the words you have drawn from your statement of your topic as described above.
  • Employ combinations of terms from your list of synonyms, if necessary. 
  • Use only the words you need in searching. The more words you put into a search, the fewer records you will retrieve.