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Beginning The Research Process

Published or Revised January 27, 2010

Topic Selection

Before you begin any research assignment, you must choose a topic or answer questions that have been assigned. Research assignments often offer you a list of research topics or a specific topic might to be assigned to all students. "Choose a topic that interests you" can also be the research assignment.

To choose a topic, there are certain techniques that can assist you with answering the question: "What am I going to write about?" These techniques are assignment, personal interest, other readings, people, sources, and preliminary research.

1. Assignment

2. Personal interest

3. Other readings

4. People

5. Preliminary research

When choosing a topic, this is not the time to do a detailed search.

The topic has been chosen. Now what?

Refining and Focusing Your Topic

Most topic choices for the research assignment are too broad for a 3-10-page paper. For example, in an American history class the assignment is on the Civil War. There is a wealth of information, and the topic has to be narrowed and focused. The first thing that you do Is brainstorm - write down terms, words, or phrases that relate to or describe your topic. For example:

The Civil War: Battles, Gettysburg, Lincoln, slavery, state's rights, the south,the north, cotton, blacks in the northern army, families divided

The brainstorming technique might result in you writing about members of families fighting on different sides in the Civil War.

With brainstorming, you now have your focus but it needs more refining. Using the journalistic questions: who, what, where, when, why and how will help to narrow and focus the topic you have chosen. Another technique of questioning is the Bloom's taxonomy:

  Intellectual Skills Cue Works
Knowlege Recognizing; recall of information; memorizing Define, recall, recognize, remember, repeat, name, recount, specify, who, what when, where
Comprehension Interpreting; organizing and arranging material; describing in one’s own word Describe, restate, interpret, state in your own words, classify, translate, identify the main idea
Application Problem solving; applying previously learned information to reach an answer Solve, apply, demonstrate, practice, calculate, show, select, choose
Analysis Breaking down into parts; seeing patterns; recognizing hidden meanings Analyze, appraise, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, examine, experiment, test, infer
Synthesis Combining ideas to form a new whole; generalize from facts; relate knowledge from several areas Plan, hypothesize, incorporate, invent, design, originate, predict, assemble, formulate, create
Evaluation Making value judgments; resolving controversies; developing and defending opinion Defend, justify, judge, appraise, criticize, discriminate between, evaluate

Some Tips On Choosing A Topic

Research Plans and Logs

Research takes time and it is recommended that a plan be made in order to be focused and effective. The plan enables the researcher to focus energy and the thinking process as information sources are located, evaluated and used. The research should achieve several functions:

The research log assists the researcher in knowing where he is and where he is going and where he might have to revisit. It is suggested that the log should include the following data:

All the entries should include a decision about using or not using the source. A question mark (?) can be used, if a decision has not been made.

Some Tips On Planning

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