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Research Process: An Overview: Choosing a Topic

This guide outlines the steps in the research process from developing a topic to crediting sources.


  • Getting Started
  • Brainstorm Questions
  • Finding Topic Ideas Online
  • Read Background Information
  • Goldilocks Approach Video
  • 5W's Approach Video
  • TIP: Keywords

TIP: Keywords

Keywords are the main terms that describe your research question or topic.  Keep track of these words so you can use them when searching for books and articles.

    1. Identify the main concepts in your research question. Typically there should only be two or three main concepts.
    2. Look for keywords that best describe these concepts.
    3. You can look for keywords when reading background information or encyclopedia articles on your topic
    4. Use a thesaurus, your textbook and subject headings in databases to find different keywords.

    Getting Started

    Choosing your topic is the first step in the research process. Be aware that selecting a good topic may not be easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. 

    #1 Research tip: Pick a topic that interests you.  You are going to live with this topic for weeks while you research, read, and write your assignment. Choose something that will hold your interest and that you might even be excited about. Your attitude towards your topic will come across in your writing or presentation!

    Brainstorming is a technique you can use to help you generate ideas. Below are brainstorming exercises and resources to help you come up with research topic ideas. 

    Brainstorm Questions

    Ask yourself the following questions to help you generate topic ideas:

    • Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political controversy?
    • Did you read or see a news story recently that has interested you?
    • Do you have a personal issue, problem or interest that you would like to know more about?
    • Is there an aspect of one of your classes that you would like to learn more about?

    Finding Topic Ideas Online

    Try the resources below to help you get ideas for possible research topics:

    * Opposing Viewpoints - this series presents all sides of current issues such as illegal immigration, health care and the death penalty.  This is a good source for finding and getting background information as well as getting ideas for a topic. 

    * Congressional Digest- similar to Opposing Viewpoints, this series takes a pro & con approach. A great resource to learn about both sides of a topic it can be found in our stacks- Ref JK 1. C65

    * CQ Researcher - this database provides news and analysis of American government, politics, history, public policy, current affairs, and controversial topics. Each report contains a synopsis and discussion of the issue, a pro/con section and bibliography. This is another great resource for topic ideas and background information.

    * Idea Generator - this website lets you browse through thousands of keywords and phrases, organized by subject areas, to help you come up with topic ideas.

    * Google News - this site provides national and international news on a variety of subjects gathered from over 4,000 sources.

    * Taking Sides- this link will take you to our catalog and a list of titles from the Taking Sides book series. Each title offers pro and con essays and related resources.

    * Use the Library's Articles and News databases to browse contents of current magazines and newspapers. If you do not know how to browse current issues ask a librarian for help.


    Read Background Information

    Read an encyclopedia article on the top two or three topics you are considering. Reading a broad summary enables you to get an overview of the topic and see how your idea relates to broader, narrower, and related issues. If you cant find an article on your topic, ask a librarian for help.

    The Gale Virtual Reference Library contains several business focused encyclopedias such as The Encyclopedia of Management and The Encyclopedia of Emerging Industries which may provide background information on possible topics.

    *  Use the Library's Articles and News databases to search for brief articles on your topic ideas.

    *  The Library's reference collection contains many general and specialized encyclopedias.  Check the Library's catalog to see what items are available for you to use in the Library.

    Subject Guide