March 28th, 2009

Pulling a Topic From Personal Experience

You’re often told to write about what you know, however when you have to support what you know with resources that back up your claims it’s possible you’ll have difficulty finding them.

Just because the topic matters to you, doesn’t mean it matters to the researcher applying for grant money to conduct a research study.

A good practice is to focus on a broader topic that interests you and then use what’s in the literature to formulate your topic. See what comes up in the literature about that topic. What subtopics or aspects of the topic are being researched or discussed.

Not sure where to start? Try your textbook or other course readings to discover some of the conversations and topics being studied and discussed and mold your research question within that context.

Robin recently posted about using the Subject Thesaurus and Topics to find the right keywords for your search. You can also use these to discover ideas for how you can focus your topic. This is what we librarians refer to as “playing in the databases.” Type in a broader subject keyword and notice the subject and topic terms that come up. Then try adding one or two of those as keywords to your search to begin narrowing and defining the broader topic you started with. As you “play” you may find yourself inspired and be ready to formulate your research question or thesis statement.

One of the biggest blunders is writing your paper prior to finding the resources you need, because you might find your thesis statement is not supported in the literature. While this might be tempting and you feel you have a good enough grasp of the topic to start writing, you might end up losing a lot of time researching and rewriting your paper. So start with the research and be sure you have support for your thesis statement. If your thesis statement comes from the literature then you have the peace of mind knowing it’s supported.

Below are examples from Business Source Complete (an EBSCOhost database) and ABI/INFORM Global (a ProQuest database) showing where you can find helpful subject and topic terms after searching with broader research topic keywords.

Subject Terms in Business Source Complete database[/caption]

Suggested Topics in ABI/INFORM database[/caption]

-Sommer

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