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Library Research Basics: Choose a Topic

This guide will help you to use the library's resources for your research. Learn to find books and articles, evaluate resources, use specific databases, choose a topic, etc. Access documentation and video tutorials to help with the research process

Choosing a topic

Students often struggle with selecting a topic for a research paper.  The trick is to find one that you find interesting, that piques your curiousity, and with enough information to keep the research challenging, but not impossible. You may need to broaden or narrow your topic, depending on the results of a preliminary search for scholarship on the topic. 

Town-Topic Hamburgers, Kansas City, Missouri

Town-Topic Hamburgers, Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Chris Murphy, August 4, 2006 in Midtown, Kansas City, MO, US, using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.


Strategies for Choosing a Topic

Consult Reference Materials

To get an overview on a topic that will help you learn about key people, events, and terminology, consult online and/or print reference sources such as encyclopedias. dictionaries, and handbooks.  The library subscribes to two comprehensive online reference databases, each of which contain the full text of a wide variety of reference books.

CREDO Reference

SAGE Knowledge

»» Watch this VIDEO to see how using these reference tools will help you choose a topic


Conduct a Broad Search in a Multidisciplinary Database

Use broad terminology in a multidisciplinary database to get an idea of the latest "talk" in this area of study.  What are the key issues being discussed among scholars on this topic?  This strategy may help you to narrow your topic to a managable amount of information or perhaps dissuade you from choosing a topic with very little literature.  Lavery Library provides access to several multidisicplinary databases.  Here are a few to help you get started:

Academic Search Complete

ProQuest Central

»»Watch this VIDEO to see how conducting a broad search in a multidisciplinary database may help you choose a topic


Meet with your Professor or Librarian

It's always a good idea to meet with your professor to be sure you understand his or her expectations for an assignment.  Your professor may have topic suggestions or may be able to help you focus your topic.  You may also want to consult with a librarian, as we can assist you with the strategies noted above, and help to get you started on your research.  Drop by the library during reference desk hours or contact the librarian in your discipline for help.  




Other Resources

Here are some other resources that may help you to choose a topic.