Sometimes instructors will assign a specific topic, but usually they will ask you to select a topic that interests you. When you choose your own topic, you will need to:
Selecting a good topic is not easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting yet broad enough to find adequate information. Before you select your topic, make sure you know what your final research project should look like. Each instructor or class will have somewhat different requirements and purposes for research.
Use the steps below to help you carefully define and select your research topic.
Choose a topic that interests you.
Even if a topic has been assigned, you may be able to choose a particular aspect of the topic that interests you personally. Use the following questions to help you generate topic ideas:
Read a general encyclopedia article on the top two or three topics you are considering.
Reading a broad summary enables you to get an overview of the topic and see how your idea relates to broader, narrower, and related issues. It also provides a great source for finding words commonly used to describe the topic. Write these keywords down; they may be very useful to your later research.
Use article databases to scan current magazine, journal, or newspaper articles on the topic.
Use Web search engines such as Google to find websites on the topic.
Keep it manageable.
A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or too narrow. Common ways to narrow a broad topic like "the environment" are:
Remember that a topic will be more difficult to research if it is too:
If you have any uncertainties about the focus of your topic, discuss it with your instructor or a librarian.
Keep track of the words that are used to describe your topic.
Identify the Database’s Search Terms (Subject Headings)
Many databases apply subject headings to the materials indexed. These are standardized terms that identify the main subject area(s) covered by the research. Also known as “controlled vocabulary,” the subject headings may be found in the databases’ Thesaurus or the records of your search results.
Some databases include a list of Subject or Thesaurus terms on the result list. Checking a box next to the term will add it to your search and change your results.
EBSCO databases ProQuest databases Click on Show More to see
Click on Subject to open the list.
Click on More options to see
additional terms and check boxes.
It is common to modify your topic during the research process.
You can never be sure of what you may find. You may find too much and need to narrow your focus, or too little and need to broaden your focus. This is a normal part of the research process. When researching, you may not wish to change your topic, but you may decide that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or manageable.
Use the keywords you have gathered to research in the library catalog, article databases and internet search engines. Find more information to help answer your research question.
You will need to do some research and reading before you select your final topic. Can you find enough supporting information to answer your research question?
The research goal and purpose can be expressed in either of two ways: as a thesis statement or as a research question.
You will often begin with a couple of words, develop a more focused interest in an aspect of something relating to these words, then begin to have questions about the topic.