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Research 101

What we will learn:

  • Strategies to help select and learn more about our topic.
  • Using key concepts to formulate a research topic or question.
  • How to develop a well formed research question that is neither too broad or too narrow in scope.
  • How to use keywords to improve our search. 

Where to begin?

So we've been assigned to write a paper for your class and we need to select a topic. But what are we going to write about? To avoid the stress of last-minute searches and topic changes, It is important to take the time to brainstorm your research topic before beginning the search process.

But before jumping in, let's first review the steps within the research process.

Five steps for topic development

  1. Brainstorm some topic ideas.
  2. Background research to find out more about topic ideas. As we do background research we may add ideas to our topic or we may change our topic entirely.
  3. Once we have our topic idea, it is useful to form a research question related to our topic that can be answered.
  4. Research our topic in order to answer our research question. Keep in mind that at this time we can still change our topic or further develop our research question. Research is a dynamic process and we should remain open to exploring interests as we gather more information.
  5. Develop a thesis, the major claim we'll make in your paper. Think of the thesis as the answer to our research question.

Before brainstorming topics...

Be sure to understand the requirements of the assignment! Research can be overwhelming at times, so write a checklist with the types of resources needed as well as any other requirements (for example, "articles must be published in the last 10 years). 

How to brainstorm a topic

Once we know the requirements of our paper, we can begin exploring topics we would be interested in writing about, leading us to a research question. When developing a research question, it is important to consider our interests and motivations for learning. When we choose a topic that is interesting, we do better research!

Concept Mapping

Think about what we know about a topic we wish to learn more about. A helpful way to explore your topic is by concept mapping. When developing a concept map, we start broadly and work our way from this broad topic to more focused knowledge. 


Background Research

We can save time by doing background research to learn more about our topic (and add terms, and new information to our concept map). For background research, we can use the Internet, an encyclopedia, course readings, or even a librarian to help explore a topic. It may be through this background research that we will stumble upon a topic for our research question that we want to explore!

Remember, research is not linear. We will often circle back to previous steps in the research process in order to come up with well-formed research questionResearch is also iterative -meaning that our original topic idea is likely to change as we get further into the research.

Some great places to start our research beyond Google are:

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