The Evergreen State College Wordmark

The Daniel J. Evans Library

Choosing A Research Topic

What are you going to research?

Sometimes a topic is the biggest hurdle in doing research. Your teacher may assign a general or specific topic, or the choice may be up to you. Knowing where to look for ideas will help you find a subject.

Where can you get ideas?

Your interests, the things you have been reading, and the conversations you have had in your program or with others are often good sources of ideas.

Sources of background information like general encyclopedias, subject-specific encyclopedias or dictionaries, or textbooks can be sources of ideas.

Current periodicals may give you an idea of hot research topics. Look through some recent issues of journals or magazines in the Periodicals collection, either a paper or electronic edition.

Browsing the shelves in the library is also a good way to get an idea of topics which have intrigued authors. Consult this Library of Congress Outline to find out where books on a general subject are shelved. Since books at Evergreen are shelved together by subject, once you identify the call number of one book, you can browse for related books shelved under the same call number.

What are your information requirements?

When analyzing your assignment, you will want to consider the type, quantity, and format of information you will need. Answering the following questions may help you organize your research:

  • What kind of assignment do you have to complete? (for example, a 5 minute oral presentation, a 10 page paper, a 50 page paper)
  • How much information do you need?
  • Is currency important?
  • What kinds of publications do you want to read? (newspaper articles, books, journal articles, diaries, trade publications, etc.)
  • What formats do you need? (visual, audio, printed, electronic)
  • Is point of view an issue?
  • Do you need opinions?
  • How much time do you have?

What are the keywords that define your topic?

Once you have identified your subject, think about questions your research might help you answer. State your topic as a question. Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become key to searching catalogs, indexes, and databases for information about your subject.

Example:

How did the New Deal programs influence arts in America?

Keywords:

  • New Deal
  • United States
  • Depression
  • Art
  • Federal Aid to the Arts

A good way to begin your research is to locate and read short articles that will give you a broad overview of the topic. You can find these articles in a variety of reference materials. Also, these resources often provide bibliographies - lists of books and articles that will allow you to discover what else is available on the subject.

Narrowing a topic

A topic that covers too much material is a common problem for students. Depending on your interests, a general topic can be focused in many ways. For example, if you want to do a paper on government funding of the arts, consider the following questions:

  • What do you already know about this subject?
  • Is there a specific time period you want to cover?
  • Is there a geographic region or country on which you would like to focus?
  • Is there a particular aspect of this topic that interests you? (for example, public policy implementations, historical influence, sociological aspects, psychological angles, specific groups or individuals involved in the topic, etc.)

Expect the research process to take time.