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Research Process: Choosing Your Topic

Guide to the research process.

Questions to Consider in Selecting a Topic

Choosing a topic that interests you is an important element of the research process. Once you have a general topic you need to consider some additional questions to narrow down a topic to a workable question to be answered in your research.

  • What are some of the major themes covered in the course?
  • Has something in a reading or textbook intrigued me?
  • What do I know about my topic?
  • What are some possible ideas about my topic that I am interested in?
  • Is there a question about my topic I want to answer?

Choosing Topic Websites

Tips on Topic Selection

Selecting a topic is one of the most important steps of your research. Defining and refining your topic is an ongoing process. Be prepared to adjust the focus of your topic as you gather more information.

These are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Interesting: Select a subject you can get interested in. Since you will be spending a considerable amount of time researching your topic, you will want it to be something that holds your interest and that of the reader. (Use your textbook, course materials, and encyclopedias for ideas)
  • Focus: Make sure that your topic isn't too broad or too specific. If the topic is too broad, you will be overwhelmed with information. If the topic is too narrow, you may not be able to find enough information for your research paper. A good first step is trying to ask a question about your topic to give you both a focus and structure. Then, identify the key concepts in your research question.

           Topic: Drinking on campus

           Research Question: What effect does alcohol have on college students?

           Key Concepts:  alcohol           AND college students
           Related terms:  binge drinking         adolescents      

  • Background Information: Do an exploratory search on your topic to gather general information. A good place to check is your textbook, an encyclopedia, or if you are considering a current issue, try one of the library's general databases.

Research Worksheet

Research Worksheet

1. What is your topic?


2. Write down the research question you want to answer regarding your topic and underline key concepts.


3. Write the key concepts down at the top of each column and brainstorm other terms. Try to use broader, narrower, and related terms.

Keyword       __________________    AND  Keyword       ___________________   

Related Term __________________            Related Term ___________________     

                       __________________                                  ___________________    

4. Use the terms you identified above to search in the library databases. Write down the database you searched and the key words that provided the best results.

Database:                                         Search terms:


Database:                                         Search terms: