The University of Texas

1. Pick a Topic

  • Look through your syllabus or textbook for themes or ideas that interest you, even if you haven’t covered them yet.

  • Search the topic or name of your course in Google or a library article database. Learn more about any results that look interesting.

  • Think about your major or your hobbies. Do any of your interests intersect with the topic of your class?

2. Learn a little about your topic

Now that you have a potential topic in mind, you need to make sure it will actually work for you.

  • Search for background information on the web (ex: Wikipedia) or in an encyclopedia database (ex: Gale Virtual Reference Library) to get a general overview of your potential topic.

  • Sometimes what you learn isn’t what you expected.  Make sure this topic really is of interest to you since you’ll be spending a lot of time reading and writing about it. If not, perhaps another aspect of it that you read about is of interest.

3. Test your Topic

Check library article databases, such as Academic Search Complete, to see if journalists or scholars have written about your topic in the popular press or in academic journals.

4. Scope your Topic

You'll need to find the right scope for your topic - not too broad or too narrow to be able to adequately cover it in the length assigned for your research project.

  • Too broad - If you found too many results in the last step, you might need to choose a narrower aspect to focus on. Go back to your background information and see if any particular aspect of your topic is of interest to you.

  • Too narrow - If you had trouble finding relevant information in a library database, think more broadly about your interests. Try exploring a broader idea or concept that your topic falls under. Eventually, you’ll settle into a topic that is the right scope. 

This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.
Video credit goes to NCSU Libraries through Creative Commons licensing. Edited to add UT Libraries information.

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