Your Topic

click to view the Finding Background Information PresentationThere are two questions to ask yourself as you chisel out the central research question or thesis which will guide your research:

1. Does the Topic interest me?
Passion for your topic will shine through your writing and help engage your instructor and readers. Large research and writing assignments involve long hours, and every stage will be harder if the thinking, reading and writing bores you. Use brainstorming techniques like mind mapping or a visual searching to uncover topics that will pique your curiosity.

Mind mapping
Mind mapping can be a good way to flesh out your ideas about a topic. It can help you figure out what you already know about your topic and help you to focus on one specific part. Here is an example of mind mapping:

Here's an example of a mind map created from the main topic of 'self-esteem.' We uncovered the related topic of teen body image and focused in on the role of advertising.

Questions to get you started:
  • Can you remember an experience in your professional or personal life that you did not fully understand?
  • Have you read something in a discussion post, your courseroom, textbook or course reading that you wanted to learn more about?
  • Have you observed anything unusual or intriguing recently (on television, in the newspaper, in your job) that piqued your curiosity?

Visual Searching
Some of the Library databases have an added feature. You can type in search terms and see a visual representation of your topic. This may help you focus your topic and see what sources are available. Click on the visual search tab in Academic Search Premier (or other EBSCOhost databases) to give it a try.

View the Visual Searching Guide for more information (PDF)

2. Can I find enough sources to support this topic?
The availability of sources will help determine how broad or narrow your topic should be. No library can afford to purchase all of the books and articles published each year. Some topics may be too new to appear in the literature. Be sure to review any source requirements in your course assignment (e.g. peer-reviewed articles). Do a preliminary search on your proposed topic. A short search of encyclopedias, books and journals will indicate the availability of material. If you find articles relevant to your topic on your first attempt, it is a good sign. Be prepared to do some research and reading before finalizing your topic.

Is the Topic Too Broad?
In the last section, we suggested that you take the world of possibilities You may need to narrow your topic. For example if your topic was, 'What are the effects of ability grouping?' you may need to narrow it to one facet such as, 'What are the effects of ability grouping in high schools?' And you could narrow it further to 'What are the detriments of ability grouping in high school advanced placement classes?'and focusing them to suit your interests, but be sure to keep in mind your assignment length requirements. You may be interested in the "History of China," but it can't be covered in a single discussion post. Try focusing on a single person, movement, event, theory or facet of a larger topic. If you are feeling overwhelmed and finding thousands of sources on your first attempt, refine the topic until it becomes more manageable.

Is the Topic Too Narrow?
Likewise, if you are finding too few sources to support your topic – check with a librarian before giving up. Your sparse search results might mean your search strategy is ineffective or that your topic is too narrow. If few writers in scholarly literature care about your topic, there may be little point in pursuing it.

Note: Sometimes your topic may require more advanced search techniques to find appropriate sources. A librarian can help you find better search terms or refine your search for more accurate results.

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