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A Research Guide for Beginners

A Guide for New Students

The Topic

To start research you need to figure out what your topic is, which is not always clear cut. Even if your topic is provided to you by your assignment the process of finding a topic that has enough sources and secondary literature can be a challenge.

Therefore, follow these steps when looking for a topic. 


  • Look through your syllabus or textbook for themes, concepts, or ideas that interest you, even if you haven't covered them in class yet.
  • Search the topic or name of your course in Google or our a-z database list. Check out any results that look interesting.
  • Think about your major or your hobbies. Do any of your personal interests overlap with the topic of the class?

Familiarize Yourself with Your Topic

Now that you have a potential topic in mind, find out a little more about it to make sure it will work for you.

  • Get a general overview of the topic.
  • Sometimes what you find is not what you expected. Make sure the topic still sounds interesting, since you'll be spending a lot of time reading and writing about it.

Test the Waters

Check library databases, namely jumpstart or our A-Z database list, to see if journalists or scholars have written about your topic in the popular press or academic journals. 

Scope of the Target

Finally, you'll need to find the right scope for your topic. If it is too broad or too narrow, you may have difficulty covering it adequately in the length assigned for your research project.

  • Too broad - if you found too many results when testing the topic, you might need to choose a specific aspect to focus on. Look for particular details that interest you.
  • Too narrow - if you had trouble finding any relevant information in a library database, then think more broadly about the topic and what interests you. What  larger concepts or ideas does your topic fall under?

Scale is also relative to the assignment or project. A short paper for a philosophy class is not going to solve fundamental problems of morality and a masters thesis is not a book report. 


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