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Basic Research

This guide is intended to help you learn about conducting research.

Choosing a Topic

More often than not, the hardest part of the research process is choosing your topic. However, that is usually because people misunderstand what it means to 'choose' their topic. Choosing a topic is a major part of research process and happens gradually as you move through the process. When your instructor tells you to 'choose a topic,' you will want to keep two things in mind-

  1. Without having done some research, you cannot make an informed decision about your topic.
  2. If you are doing things right, your topic will change during the research process.

Getting Started With Your Topic

Hopefully the idea of developing your topic throughout the research process makes a bit more sense and seems a little less daunting. But what's the best way to get started?

When choosing your topic, think about what interests you-

  • What questions do you have?
  • What problems would you like to see solutions for?
  • What is it that interests you in this discipline? 

Choosing a topic that is interesting or important to you will make the research process easier and more enjoyable. College is difficult enough, don't make it worse by choosing boring topics!

But if you're the type of person who can't answer questions like those above or just can't come up with anything interesting, you may want to get started by looking at some reference resources. Online sources such as eBooks, online encyclopedias, web sites and even Wikipedia can be very helpful in finding an area to explore. As you read about different issues and subjects, think about what areas are still unexplained or are being currently researched.

Don't make the mistake of thinking you need to find something ground-breaking.

You'll be doing that once you start finding articles and other sources- don't expect the exciting and life-changing part to happen right at the beginning. For now, focus on exploring the information that is out there. While you are finding information, make a list of terms that describe your topic which you can use to start your search. For now, keep it simple- for example, if you find an interesting article on the use of racist stereotypes of Native Americans in sports mascots, a good example of useful terms may be:

  • sports mascot
  • racism
  • Native Americans

At this point in the process, this is a short list. You will certainly need more terms to conduct a quality search, but that will come later. For now, keep it simple.

Try it out!

If you're working on a class assignment, go ahead and brainstorm ideas for a topic. Use the questions above as a starting place. If you are having a hard time brainstorming, find a classmate or friend to bounce ideas off of or conduct some pre-research by following the example of the video above about 'choosing a topic using online resources.' 

If you're playing along at home but don't have an assignment to work with, use the assignment from the 'What is research' page and brainstorm ideas. Use a classmate or friend and/or online resources to come up with ideas. 

Once you have a basic idea for a topic, create a list of three (3) terms that describe your topic and write them down- we'll be using those in the next step.

What next?

Once you have those terms (remember, you only need a basic idea for a topic at this point), move on to the next page to learn more about using those terms to begin your search process. 

Choosing a topic using online resources