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A Guide to the Research Process

Choose a Topic

There are a lot of ways to go about choosing a topic for your research assignment.  Think about what interests you in your class and meets the parameters of the assignment.  Make sure to review the assignment description.  Does your professor give you a specific topic to cover, or are you responsible for choosing the subject?

To begin, take out a blank sheet of paper or open a document:

  • Were you provided with a list of possible topics by your professor? Which do you find interesting?
  • If you were not given a list of possible topics, what do you find interesting about the course?
  • Are there any controversial aspects to this topic or area of study?
  • List any questions you have about this topic or area of study.
  • Browse through your textbook for possible topics.
  • Discuss possible research topics with friends and classmates.  

If you're having trouble creating a list of topics use a database like Issues and Controversies, which provides background information on many topics.

Try It!
  1. Free-writing, write down whatever comes to mind. Don't worry about correct spelling, etc.
  2. Put yourself on a timer, start with writing or listing ideas for 3 minutes
  3. Create a diagram, write your central idea in the middle of the paper and add branching aspects

Before we start searching in the library databases, take a few minutes to consider which search terms or keywords best describe your topic.

Example: Do veterans with PTSD have better outcomes when they are given service animals?

  • Identify the main ideas - Do veterans with PTSD have better outcomes when they are given service animals?
  • Brainstorm Broader, Related and Narrower Terms. Remember that sometimes articles are published by experts in their given field, consider the language that an expert would use.
Service Animals
Soldiers (broader) Post-traumatic stress disorder (related) Service dogs (narrower)
Vietnam veterans (narrower)   Assistance animals (related)

When you start researching in the databases, you may find that your topic is too broad or too narrow. If your topic is too broad, try getting more specific by asking yourself what group, region, time period and/or point of view you are interested in researching. If your topic is too narrow, use broader keywords to capture more results and follow where the research leads you.