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Choosing a Topic

How to choose a Topic

A sample research strategy might be as follows:

  • Choose a topic that interests you and corresponds to the course objectives
  • Using the course syllabus, general reference works such as encyclopedias and dictionaries, and your textbook or course packet, look for background information to help you focus your topic.
  • Verify that your professor approves the chosen topic or area of research
  • Identify the main concepts of your topic and start composing a list of keywords or search terms for each concept for future use in searches
  • Use these search terms to research your topic in the library's online catalog, reference books, periodical indexes, and on the Web (see library homepage for help if necessary)
  • Consult a reference librarian to identify appropriate resources or use the library webpage.
  • Always keep track of your sources (i.e., identify them); if you paraphrase, quote, or refer to the information in your paper or project, you must include a note or a citation
  • Evaluate your resources as you go along, especially information found on the Web - see Finding and Evaluating a Web Site

Whether you choose from a list provided by your professor, get ideas from your own reading, or from items min the news, it is best to choose a topic that is of interest to you.

Be wary of topics that are too general or too specific, and do not be afraid to choose a controversial subject. Consult the Library's reference section for general and background information on a variety of subjects prior to, and during, your research.

The Topic Statement

Developing a topic statement or question before beginning research will help you to clearly visualize your subsequent strategy.

Sample Topic Statement and Question:

My preliminary topic statement might be: "I want to locate information about censorship and popular music."

My topic question could be: "What are the effects of censorship on the pop music industry?"

Search Terms

In order to begin your research, try breaking your topic down into keywords and key concepts. Whether you are using the online catalog, the library's periodical databases, or the Web, in order to do effective research you must choose relevant (important) search terms. These words and phrases allow you to retrieve information, and can be used to narrow or broaden your query.

The process of brainstorming for related words and concepts may lead you to narrowing down your topic (making it less general) or to expanding it in some cases. You may use dictionaries, a thesaurus, the Library catalog and databases to find synonyms and subject headings. 

Subject headings are used in some databases and catalogs.  They are a standardized vocabulary used in that particular database.  You might find that two databases use different terms or that there are other terms you might want to use.  Below are two articles - one has climate change in the title but the subject headings include global warming and global climate models.  The second article has climate change as a subject but you might be interested in also using environmental policy or protection in that database.  

Subject Heading 1

Subject heading example

Sample Search Terms

Two key concepts or ideas for the topic question, "What are the effects of censorship on the pop music industry?" are: "censorship" and "popular music". Some search terms associated with this topic might be:

  1. censorship
  2. banned music
  3. lyrics
  4. MTV
  5. rap groups
  6. recording industry

Combining Search Terms (Boolean Logic)

Once you have found terms related to your topic you may want to combine two or more of them as a strategy for searching in the catalog or other databases. Using this search strategy, often called Boolean Logic (the use of 'AND', 'OR', and 'NOT' in a query), will enable you to narrow or expand your search and therefore affect the quantity and relevancy of your results (hits).


   Music AND Censorship

   Music NOT Classical

    Music OR Songs