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Information Literacy Tutorial: Research Topic

Choosing my topic

For hearing impaired students:

I talked to my teacher.  He told me to pick a topic about something I care about and I'm interested in.  That got me thinking.  A few years ago, I became a vegetarian.  I want to write about that.  But how do I make that a research topic, and will I be able to find enough information on my topic?

Need Help Finding a Topic?

For current or controversial issues papers use one of the following databases:

Use These Books for Some Ideas:

Watch Out!

Avoid topics that are too

  • Broad
  • Narrow
  • Current
  • Controversial


Step 1: Selecting a Topic

Before you can begin your research you have to know what you are looking for.  Often times a topic will be given to you by your instructor.  Other times you will need to select a topic.  If selecting your own topic, make sure to pick something that is of interest to you that meets the requirements of the assignment.

Step 2: Preliminary Research

How do I know if my topic is a good one?  It is critical to develop a manageable research topic.  This can literally make or break your paper. 

  • Do a quick search on your topic in a general reference database
    This will help familiarize yourself with the topic, especially if it was assigned to you and not chosen by you.  Learning more about your topic will help give you ideas of how you can focus your topic.
  • Talk to your teacher
    Your teacher assigned the paper, and therefore should have a pretty good idea of whether or not a certain topic will suit the assignment.
  • Talk to a librarian
    Librarians can quickly help you determine if information on your topic is readily accessible, or if it is too narrow or too broad, both of which can lead to problems.

Step 3: Rewrite Your Topic as a Question

Taking a little time at the start of your research to really think about your topic will save you time later on.  Rewriting your topic as a question is a good way to focus your research and later can be reworked into your thesis statement. 

First consider your purpose for the paper:
Is it to inform or persuade?  Go back and look at the assignment if needed.  Does it contain words like explain or describe?  If so, your paper is probably intended to be informative. If it uses words like argue, prove, or defend it is probably persuasive. 

How would this change my research question?

Let's say you chose veganism as your topic.

If it is an informative paper, your research question might be:
What are the basic principles of a vegan diet?

If it is a persuasive paper, your research question might be:
How is a vegan diet healthier?

Step 4: Identify Keywords

Next, look at your research question and decide what are the most important ideas or words?


Does a vegan diet increase longevity?

How does a vegan diet help the environment?

Can a vegan diet prevent or reverse disease?

In these above examples the main ideas or keyords have been bolded.

Why is this an important step?

Most of us are used to searching Google or other search engines that use natural language, but library databases do not typically work that way.  Library databases use keyword searching.  Watch the video below for more help with selecting keywords.

Selecting and Using Keywords Video (3:50)

Step 5: Brainstorm

After you have identified your keyords, think of some other ways to describe your topic.  This might include synonyms, related terms or broader or narrower terms.  For example instead of vegan diet, you might use veganism, or just vegan.  A related term might be plant-based diet or vegetarianism.  Since database searching is not an exact science, it is always useful to have some additional terms you can try to use for your searches.  Play around and see what gets you the best results. 

Next Step

Move to the next folder tab at the top of the page to learn about types of resources.