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Research Process: Finding a Topic

This guide focuses on the skills and resources needed to complete a research project.

Welcome to Choosing a Topic

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You need to pick a topic that meets your instructor's criteria and isn't too big or too small. Look for topics where you can make several points about it.Your topic also needs to be academic enough so that you can demonstrate good research techniques. Use your best writing skills to show your knowledge of the topic. 

Finding a Topic, Keywords, Boolean Search and Find a Book Tutorial

Narrow your Topic

Too much information?
Try limiting your topic to one of the following aspects:

Theory Limit your topic to just one school of thought. EX: your topic concerns the effects of television on children-->narrow your approach to social learning theory.
Sub-Topic Explore a specific aspect of your topic. EX: your topic is human cloning-->investigate government regulation of cloning.
Time Span Choose a specific time period. EX: your topic is assisted suicide-->contrast public attitudes in the 1980's versus the 2000's.
Population Focus on a specific age, sex, race, occupation, species or ethnic group. EX: on a topic in genetics, examine specific traits as they affect women over 40 years of age.
Location Consider a geographic analysis. EX: if your topic concerns cloning, investigate cloning practices in Europe or the Middle East.


Topic Grid
Topic Other Keywords People/Place Impact(s) Cause(s)
Dogs Canine Home Service Companionship
      Health Benefits Security


Being Part of a Persuasive Conversation

Choosing a persuasive topic for a college class isn't as easy as it sounds. For starters, you need to find something that can be argued or persuaded. Some topics just can't be argued. Another problem students have is finding the topics that can be researched.

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Here are some Hot Topic research guides created by Librarians at Rowan-Cabarrus to give you some ideas.


Below are links to online reference resources to help you narrow your broad topics to a narrower focus:

Not Enough Information?

Not enough information?
Read background information. Think of related ideas.

Your topic is too specific Generalize. EX: your topic is genetic diversity for a specific ethnic group in Ghana, Africa-->broaden to all ethnic groups in West Africa.
Your topic is too new Search databases that contain newspaper articles.
Have you checked enough databases? Use the Research Databases by Subject list to find specialized databases.
You are using too much jargon. Use a thesaurus. How is your topic expressed by experts? What terms are commonly found in citations and bibliographies?

Topic Ideas

Below are links to topic lists from various institutions, some of which contain further links to information resources.

It's Ok to Google!

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There are lots of times that Google is really helpful for research. Here are a few.

  • For pre-reading before picking a topic.
  • To verify information that you've found on websites.
  • To verify credibility of an author or source.
  • To use credible sites for information (if your instructor allows website).
  • To access online scholarly articles through Google Scholar or available from publishers' websites (if your instructor allows).
  • To find bibliographies of websites like Wikipedia (sources in bibliographies can be credible even if the website isn't).
  • To find abstracts in indexes such as PubMed and then search for the article in the Library's databases.

Many times sources found in Google are just as credible as sources in the Library's databases. It's up to YOU to verify credibility when you Google. However, always follow your instructor's directions on the types of sources allowed for assignments.