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Introduction to Research: Choosing Your Research Topic

Identify Your Topic

Selecting a topic is the first step. If the choice is up to you, pick a topic that interests you. Think broadly about your topic and do some preliminary research by consulting subject encyclopedias, dictionaries or handbooks. You can also check appropriate current periodicals or browse shelves of books classed in subject areas to get ideas on research topics.

You will probably have to narrow your topic since most topics are too broad for a research paper although at times your topic could be too specific and in this case, you might need to broaden your focus.

Develop Your Topic

Once you have identified your topic:
  • State the topic in the form of a specific statement or question.

  • Identify the main concepts, terms and keywords that describe your topic.

  • Start making a list of words to describe your topic. Use dictionaries and thesauri to define other terms to build a useful list of terms. These terms will become the keywords for searching catalogues, indexes, and databases for information about your subject.

For example:

Topic: What are the behavioural effects of TV violence on children?
Main concepts: television, violence, children, behavioural effects
Secondary concepts: television, TV
violence, aggression, aggressive, cruelty
child, adolescents, juvenile, minor
acting out, conduct

Once you have identified key terms for your topic, you are ready to shape your strategy for searching catalogues, indexes and databases.

To visually spell out the concepts and relationships among the ideas, check out these examples of concept tables. (Virginia Tech University Libraries)

Form a Search Strategy

For a description of how to formulate a search strategy, go to: Using Boolean Operators and Parentheses guide. (University of Saskatchewan Library)  


Last Updated: 24 May 2013

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