Choosing Your Topic
For topic lists:
- Use library databases such as Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Issues & Controversies, and CQ Researcher.
- Ask a librarian for a book of research topics.
For more help, read Choosing a Topic from Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL).
Once you've chosen a topic, brainstorm a list of synonyms and related terms, then start gathering background information.
Here are some online encyclopedias to browse for topic ideas and background information:
- When you find a relevant source, use the subject terms or descriptors listed to lead you to similar sources.
- Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase, such as "drunk driving"
- Use AND, OR, and NOT (a.k.a., Boolean operators--see image below)
- To search for more than one word or phrase, use the connector AND, as in teenagers AND alcohol use
- To include results that have ANY of your terms, use the connector OR, as in teenagers OR adolescents
- When you want to remove results about a specific aspect of your topic, use the word NOT, as in alcohol use NOT driving
- You can combine connectors in an advanced search such as teenagers AND alcohol use NOT driving
- Use parentheses to tell the database which parts of the search go together: (teenagers OR adolescents) AND alcohol use NOT driving
- If you get stuck Ask a Librarian!
Diabetes AND treatment
Gay OR Homosexual
Tigers NOT Detroit
Broadening and Narrowing Your Topic
If your topic is too broad, you will get too many search results to sort through. Here are some tips to narrow your topic:
- Limit to a specific time period, e.g. the 1960s
- Limit to a specific place, e.g., Detroit
- Limit to a specific person or group, e.g., teenagers
- Limit to a specific event or aspect, e.g., health effects
If your topic is too narrow, you may not find enough sources for your paper. You can apply these concepts to broaden your topic:
- Expand the time period to the 20th century
- Expand the place to Michigan, or even the U.S.
- Expand the group of people to all youth / minors
- Include other events or aspects such as psychological effects
Here's another explanation of broadening and narrowing a topic from the UCLA Library.
For additional help, please ask a librarian.
Hints and Tips
1. Do NOT use the words "Pros" and "Cons" in your search!
2. Start early! Have first choice of books, or have books brought from another campus.
3. Keep a Log. Keeping good records of your searches can help you find them again later.
4. Limit to Full Text in your database searches and you can print out the article right now!
5. Limit to "Peer-Reviewed" or "Academic" articles if your instructor wants you to use Scholarly journal articles.