Identify and Develop Your Topic

Identifying your topic is the first step in the research process. Use these guidelines and tips to help kickoff your research.

Step 1: Identify a Topic

A good way to start your research is to state your topic as a question. This will help you clarify your thoughts and focus your topic. For example, if your topic is drinking and driving, you could ask questions such as: How does drinking affect driving? What are the laws on drinking and driving? What are the statistics on drinking and driving?

Step 2: Identify Concepts

Once you have stated your topic as a question, you need to identify the main concepts in the question. Do this by picking out the significant terms in your question, such as affect, laws, statistics, etc.

Step 3: Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

Often finding too much or too little information may mean you need to narrow or broaden your topic. To narrow your topic, try adding concrete or specific terms to your questions. For example, instead of asking, "What are the laws on drinking and driving?" ask, "What are Virginia's laws on drinking and driving?" Or, instead of asking, "What are the statistics on drinking and driving?" ask, "What are the statistics on teenage drinking and driving?"

Step 4: Test Your Topic

Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by looking them up in the appropriate background sources (subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.) or by using them as search terms in the library's catalog or in one of the library's databases.

Note: If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by using the AND operator: college students and drinking, for example. If you are finding too little information, you may need to broaden your topic. For example, look for information on teenagers, rather than college students. See more on Boolean Searching.

Once you have identified and tested your topic, you are ready for the next step – finding background information.