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Research Process: A Step-by-Step Approach: Step 1 - Select your Topic

Guide to help students familiarize themselves with the research process and useful library tools.

Research Process

Pick Topic and Know Assignment Requirements

Beginning your research

Know your Assignment

Decide on a topic

Do an initial search of library and web resources

Turn your topic into a research question

Develop search strategy & identify keywords

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Know Your Assignment

The first step fo the research process is to know the assignment and what guidelines/requirements the professor has given. Take note of the following:

  • Topic: Have you been assigned a topic for you to write about or can you choose a subject of interest to you, which fits into the guidelines of the assignment. 
  • Type of research: What type of research is needed? Do you need original research (such as survey or experiment) or are you able to use secondary research (such as research published in books/journal articles)?
  • Scope: Do you need to analyze a topic from different viewpoints or do you need to take one position and defend it?
  • Sources: Are you required to use a certain number and/or type of resources in your research?
  • Citation Style: Has the professor, specified a citation style for you to use in citing your sources? If not, which style is appropriate for your subject?
  • Format/Length: Is there a page limit for the completed assignment? Has formatting guidelines, such as line spacing, numbering, or font size been given?
  • Due date: When is your paper due? 

What makes a good topic?

A good topic is:

  • Broad enough that you can find enough information on the subject.
  • Focused enough that you are not overwhelmed with too much information. 
  • Interesting to you

Keep in mind, good research takes time and effort.

Initial Library Resources Check

It is always good to brainstorm about your topic before jumping into a library or internet resource search. Your text book as well as the library's online catalog can help provide a good overview of your topic.

Turn your topic into a question

Creating a research question can help to focus your research. What about your topic do you want to research? What aspects of the subject interest you?

Search Strategy/Identify Keywords

Determine your Search Strategy by looking at your research question/topic statement and identify keywords and concepts. The Keywords will help you when you begin searching library resources.

Using a search strategy

  • will save you time and energy.
  • will make it easier for someone else to understand your research process.
  • will help you to remain consistent in your search from one resource to another.

Identify the keywords 

  • review your research question.
  • review common terms from an initial libary/web search
  • identify synonymns and words related to topic
  • record assigned subjects/subject headings that relate to your key words