Choosing a Topic
Selecting a topic is often one of the most difficult parts of doing research. If you have a choice of research topics, start by choosing a topic you like, or one you are curious about. Here are some more suggestions:
- Browse a subject encyclopedia (in print or online) for ideas, concepts, and vocabulary
- Browse newspapers (in print or online) for topic ideas; but watch out, if the topic is extremely new there may not be enough written about it yet to satisfy your assignment
- Do some exploratory searches in an article database like Expanded Academic ASAP and read some abstracts there
- Talk to your Professor or to a reference librarian — they can show you how to use online resources and help with your topic selection
Is your topic too big? Is it too narrow? Will you be able to find enough on the topic? You won't know for sure until you get started, but developing a good keyword list, including some broader and narrower terms for your topic, will help and it's quick and easy to do. Start by doing some background reading.
A quick background check now saves time later. Taking a few minutes now to read about your topic in a specialized encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook may save you a lot of time later. These books are useful for discovering the names of important people and learning the vocabulary of the field. Encyclopedia articles often include carefully selected bibliographies, or lists of references to other works, which will help you begin looking for additional information.
The Reference shelves behind the Reference Desk are filled with books that can help you develop your topic. We also have a growing collection of online encyclopedias, which you can find in SAILS, our online catalog.