The Research Process

Picking a Topic & Starting the Research Process

This section of the guide will cover the first three steps in the research process: 

1. Identify Your Topic
2. Find Background Information
3. Narrow Your Topic

Picking a Topic

Identifying Your Topic

  1. Start by thinking about what interests you. It will be easier to research something if you are genuinely interested in it! However, make sure that your topic aligns with the requirements of the assignment and is appropriate to the course. 
  2. Consider discussing your topic with your professor. They are experts in the field, and will likely be able to advise you as to whether your topic is appropriate and how difficult it might be to research. 
  3. Consider doing some preliminary research via a search engine like Google to figure out what the “hot button” issues are in your topic area. For example, if you know you want to write about cloning, what is going on in the news about cloning? What are medical professionals talking about right now? This might help you narrow your broad topic of cloning to a more specific, more searchable topic. 
  4. Identify the main concepts or keywords related to your topic that you would want to use to begin a search. 

Narrowing (or Broadening) Your Topic

  1. After your preliminary research, stop and consider your topic again. Do you need to narrow or broaden your search? If you are finding too many sources, you may need to narrow your topic. If you are not finding enough sources, you may need to broaden your topic.
  2. Frame your topic in the form of a question and/or hypothesis. For example, if your topic is the environmental aspects of wind turbines, your question might be whether wind turbines are environmentally friendly.
    1. As you research, this question will likely lead to several sub-questions. For example, our question about whether wind turbines are environmentally friendly might lead to related questions such as whether wind turbines are dangerous for birds, or whether wind turbines reduce fossil fuel use. 
  3. Once you have settled on a more (or less) specific topic for your project, consider new search terms and search strings you can use for your topic. 
  4. Consider scheduling a research consultation with one of our librarians for help defining your topic and creating search strings. 

Early Research

Finding Background Information

  1. If your textbook or course materials cover your topic, review what you’ve learned in class on the topic to help you generate some keywords for searching and to help you frame your topic. 
  2. Consider looking at a general resource like an encyclopedia to gain background knowledge on your topic and to help you generate some keywords for searching. 
  3. You may want to consult non-academic sources to get a “feel” for what is going on in the field, especially if your source is starting out very broad. Make sure you’re using a reputable source, even if it is a non-academic source. You don’t want to start your project with incorrect information! 
  4. Do a basic, preliminary search from our homepage to get an idea of some of the resources available on your topic.
    1. The default “start here” tab will search both books and some of our article databases. 
    2. For help with search terms and strategies, see our Books & Articles tab. 
  5. Keep track of what you found and where you found it. Consider downloading Zotero to help you manage and track your sources. 
  6. Don’t be afraid to reconsider or change your topic if necessary.