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Last Updated: Sep 14, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Working on Your Topic

  Working on Your Topic

Picking a topic can be difficult. To make picking and writing on a topic a little easier, try to avoid these common mistakes:

Thinking there are 100+ articles/books on your topic

  • TIP: Try to hunt around to see how your topic is treated. Browse general reference resources to give yourself ideas. Try subject encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, etc. to get the ideas flowing.

Picking a topic that is too broad or too narrow

  • TIP: If you feel you are overwhelmed or not getting enough, you may need to refine your search. How? Think about broader/narrower time span, a larger/smaller place, broad/specific group of people, general/specific event.

Not being flexible with your research

  • TIP: It's important to adjust your topic while you research. Try to have a basic idea of what you want to do when you begin and adapt as you learn more about what's out there, plus what's interesting to you.

Not giving yourself enough time
  TIP: Make sure you allow time for your research. This should lessen stress and make the process a lot more enjoyable.


Generating Search Terms

First open up a word document or turn to a page in your notebook and brainstorm about your paper topic. What are your first thoughts on your topic, say Italian Americans? What would you like to know about them? What ideas or concepts are closely related to the topic? What about this topic interests you? 

Now, look over your writing. Underline any keywords you've generated. That is, what are the words that stand out to you or seem particularly important? Next, find synonyms for the words you’ve underlined, as well as other concepts related to your topic, and list them. These will be your search terms. Try them in various combinations, substituting synonyms when you are not finding much material and adding new terms in when you are finding too much.


Posing Questions about your Topic

From A Topic to Questions

(All information contained herein is adapted from Chapter Three of The Craft of Research)

Questions are crucial, because the starting point for any worthwhile research is always what you do not know or understand but feel you must.

Consider the standard who, what, where, why, and when questions. Don’t stop to consider the answers; simply generate as many of these questions as you can.


Now, organize your questions from these four perspectives:

  1. What are the parts of your topic and what larger whole is it a part of?
  2. What is its history and what larger history is it a part of?
  3. What kinds of categories can you find in it, and to what larger category of things does it belong?
  4. What good is it? What can you use it for? What can I teach my readers about it?

Click here for an extended version of this questionnaire, with example set of questions and answers.


Start with Searching

How can you make searching for information less frustrating?

Know Your Topic

  • Ask questions to yourself about what you are looking for and continue to revise your searches based on what you're finding out. This can help you understand if you are searching for the right information.

Use keywords

  • The catalog and databases are not like You can't ask those systems a question. They don't like it. What do you need to do? Pick out the most important words or ideas about what you are trying to find and simply enter those.

Think outside the box

  • We just talked about using keywords - the most important ideas in you topic or questions you are answering. Sometimes just one set of keywords is not enough. You may search multiple places and not get any results. Try thinking of a different way to say something.
  • For example: America = United States; Teenager = Teen, Adolescent; Body image = Self image, etc...

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125 Route 340
Sparkill, NY 10976



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