Library Tutorials: How to Search

Develop Your Topic

  • Choose a workable topic. This guide from Colorado State on "Choosing Workable Topics" offers strategies for generating topic ideas and for finding topics appropriate to particular types of writing assignments.

  • State your topic as a question. Articulating your research question as specifically as possible can help you identify search keywords. Example: What measures can be taken by educators to prevent violence in elementary schools? For more help writing research questions, see the Writing Center at George Mason University handout on "How To Write a Research Question".

  • Identify the most important concepts in your question. These concepts are likely to lead you to search keywords. Example: violence, grade or elementary school, prevention

  • Narrow or broaden your topic as needed. If your topic is too broad, you may be overwhelmed with information. On the other hand, if your topic is too narrow, you may have trouble finding enough information. There are a number of ways to narrow or broaden a topic. You might consider the following
    • Who is involved?
      A particular age group, occupation, ethnic group, men, women, etc.
      Example: violence in elementary schools

      What is the problem?
      Identify the key issue facing the "who" in your topic.
      Example: What measures can be taken by educators to prevent violence in elementary schools?

      Where is this happening?
      A specific country, province, city, rural vs. urban environment, physical environment, etc.
      Example: violence in elementary schools in California

When is this happening?
Is this a current issue or an historical event? Will you want to discuss the historical development of a current problem?
Example: violence in elementary schools in California over the past 10 years

Why is this happening? Why is this problematic?
Focus on the suggested causes of the problem or issue, or,
Outline the topic's historical or current ramifications.

Topic too narrow?
Think of "analogous" or similar elements that could be added
Example: measures to prevent violence in California elementary schools compared or contrasted with Florida elementary schools

Need help with your topic? Ask your professor or a Ask a librarian.