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Research Path

Choosing a topic

Choosing a topic

This is the first step in the research you will do for your paper or project.

You will need to find a topic that has plenty of information written about it so that you may select what best fits your interests.


Understand the assignment

It is important that you understand the assignment before starting your research. Look closely at the instructions you have been given and consider these questions:

  • Is it an assigned topic or can it be one of your own choosing?
  • How many pages should it be?
  • Are you required to use certain types of materials such as scholarly articles?
  • Are you limited to a certain time period or geographic region?

Select a topic that interests you

If you have some flexibility in choosing your topic, choose one that you find interesting and that you want to know more about. Being interested in the topic will help keep you going. If you need ideas try:

  • reading articles in magazines and newspapers
  • searching for ideas on the Internet using Google
  • browsing the shelves of the library or a bookstore
  • use topic finding aids in CQ RESEARCHER online

Broad topic: Pets
Narrow topic: Pet therapy
Narrower topic: Pet therapy and the chronically ill 

Write a research question

research question is a clear, focused question that helps guide your research.

The four "must haves" of a good research question:

  1. Relevance (the question must be related to your topic)
  2. Feasible/realistic (Can you answer this question in the time that you have?)
  3. Clearly written (Do other people know what you're asking?)
  4. Open-ended (The question cannot be answered with a 'yes' or 'no'.)

Here are a few steps to designing a research question:

  • Decide on a topic
  • Do some pre-research (reading) on your topic
  • Consider your assignment and how you might focus your ideas
  • Ask 'how' and 'why' about your topic

Example of a not so good (too general) research question:

Is pet therapy beneficial?

Example of a solid, clearly written, open-ended research question:

How can companion animals improve health?

Use key terms

Jot down the main terms that relate to your research question. Include terms that are broader or narrower than your topic. These terms are called key terms (or keywords), and they are the words you will use when you do your research. It is helpful to keep track of these in your notes and add terms that work well to your list as you come upon them in your research.

Example research question: How can companion animals improve health?

Key terms: pets, pet therapy, companion animals, therapeutic use, health, health benefits, chronic illness

For complicated or more involved research, it may be helpful to organize and keep track of your terms in a chart:

Try searching the library catalog, a general database, and an encyclopedia. You might need to try different keywords to broaden or narrow your topic. This preliminary work will help you see if all is going well or if you need to fine tune your search.

Get Research Help

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Coordinator, Teaching & Learning

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Yen Tran
Lemieux Library Second Floor iDesk
Subjects: Education, Social Work