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Research Basics: 1. Selecting and Narrowing Your Topic

How to search and find library resources

The journey from choosing a topic to completing a research-based assignment is called the research process. The first step in the research process is to choose an interesting topic and create a research question. You might be limited to certain topics chosen by your professor or have the freedom to choose your own. Using your research question, you can perform some background research to learn more about your topic. The background research will enable you to refine your topic and write a strong, focused thesis statement. Your thesis statement is what you will ultimately use to choose keywords and create search statements.

Flexibility is a virtue when choosing a topic, and your finished topic may not always look exactly like your original one. Your original topic might be too broad or too narrow, or there may not be enough information on your topic, or you may discover a more interesting one as you conduct your research. All of these steps are in preparation for using search tools, creating targeted searches, and retrieving the best information to use in your paper, project, or speech.

Taming Your Research Topic

Narrow Your Topic

If your search returned too many results, it can be helpful to narrow the focus of your research.

Here are some techniques to help narrow your topic.

Technique Ask Yourself Example Narrowed
Time Period Can my topic focus on a specific time or date range? In the past decade or specific year? In the future? ethanol fuel production ethanol fuel production in the past five years
Place Does my topic have a local focus? Can I focus on a specific geographic region or area? wetlands restoration wetlands restoration in Florida
Population Can I limit the topic to a specific gender, age group, income level, ethnicity, nationality, education level, etc.? public smoking bans public smoking bans and their impact on children's health
Viewpoint Can I focus on a political, philosophical, ethical, social, legal, or economic aspect or viewpoint? economic impacts of drug testing economic impacts of drug testing on welfare recipients
Is there an individual or group relevant to my topic? performance enhancing drugs performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball

Adapted from: Information Literacy Concepts: An Open Educational ResourceAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BYNC-SA 4.0)  Adapted from Mastering Academic Research developed at Florida Institute of Technology. Adapted from Research Foundations from Seminole State College of Florida Library.

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