The tabs below cover topics useful for getting started with research: choosing a topic, narrowing that topic, identifying key words to use in a database search, and more.
This section will help you consider a topic for your research paper that is interesting to you, and that is researchable using library resources. When you select a topic and focused research question, you’ll want to consider a few things:
Remember, your research question is NOT your thesis statement; it’s exploratory. If you start doing research and discover that people are writing articles about a more interesting (or easier to research) question, you can always adjust your question as you collect information.
Ideally you will find a topic that genuinely interests you, and develop a clear, concise, and researchable question based on that topic.
Sometimes, we start with a topic in mind that is too broad or general. It might seem like the right size for your paper in the beginning, but is way too big after you’ve learned a little more about it. When this happens, you need to narrow the focus of your paper. You can do this by considering different ways to restrict your paper topic.
There are many ways to narrow the focus of your paper. Here are just a few:
For example, a paper about alcohol use would be very broad. But a paper about reasons for alcohol abuse by women college students in the United States during the 1990s might be just right.
This image visualizes narrowing a topic as starting with all possible topics and choosing narrower and narrower subsets until you have a specific enough topic to form a research question.
Further reading on narrowing a topic can be found in the section Narrowing A Topic from this ebook, Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research, from Ohio State University.
Key words are the search terms you use to find materials in databases, search engines, OneSearch or elsewhere. Key words work by matching the words you entered with words that appear either:
If you aren't sure what search words to use, think about what words other people might use to describe your topic!
Some things to consider:
When you search, take a look at your search results! You can pull words that come up in your results to search again, or try different combinations of words from your brainstormed list. It might take a few searches to find the search results you want. Don't give up too quickly!
Start by doing a simple search on your topic in a database. See what kinds of results come back. Are the relevant? Are they what you were expecting to find? If they are relevant, great! If not, why not? Are your search terms too broad? Too narrow? Is there a better way to describe your topic? Try searching using different search terms. Or, explore your results using database filters. Here are some specific search strategies.
Boolean Operators are words that connect search terms or key words together to broaden or narrow the results retrieved. In library research they are often used with the library's research databases or the library catalog.
The three Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT.
One way to visualize Boolean Operators is to use a Venn diagram. In a database, your Boolean searches would look like this