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Library Research Process: Developing a Topic

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Getting Started

Once you have a clear understanding of the assignment and your instructor's expectations, you can begin to develop your topic. Some instructors may give you a very specific topic or let you choose from a list of options; other instructors may give you the freedom to write about anything you choose (related to the class, of course). Each option presents challenges. Assigned topics may not be particularly interesting to you, and you may find it difficult to stay engaged with the assignment. When you have the flexibility to choose your own topic, you may be overwhelmed by the seemingly endless possibilities and find it hard to get started. Use a search engine such as instaGrok to help develop a topic.

No matter how you come to the topic, keep in mind that it will be in development throughout the writing process. That is, as you read background information, gather research to support your arguments, and write drafts of the paper, you will revise and refine your topic. For instance, you may find that your initial topic is too broad given the length of the assignment. Or, if you narrow your topic too soon, you may not be able to find books or articles to cite in your paper.

So, how do you choose and develop a topic? Read on for tips and tricks...

Concept Map

Developing a topic

Tips & Tricks

  • Whenever possible, select a topic that interests you. Not sure where to start? Try:
    • skimming your textbook or course readings for ideas,
    • using instaGrok to browse topics
    • visiting sites like Google News or The New York Times to find recent topics in the news.
  • Read through background information Try:
    • ‚Äčreading Wikipedia. We all do it, just proceed with caution. Anyone can publish something to Wikipedia, so always verify the source.
  • Narrow your topic sufficiently while keeping your assignment guidelines in mind. Try:
    • thinking of limits such as geographic location, time period, or population characteristics
    • searching with more specific terms--e.g., instead of "infectious disease" try "influenza"
  • Write out your topic as a thesis statement and select the main concepts