1. Select a topic that genuinely interests you. Look at course readings, class notes, Google, Wikipedia, CQ Researcher or Credo Reference for initial ideas.
2. Consider the scope of your topic.
If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information.
If it too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information.
3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. It should be a question that will have a concrete, specific and measurable answer that has not already been definitively answered (you want to contribute something new to the discussion!).
Questions to guide the development of your research question:
Knowing the right keywords to search will help you start your search off right. Often, when students aren't finding good information - or any information at all about a topic - it is because they aren't using the correct keywords.
The best thing you can do before ever getting into a database is to think about the keywords that will best represent your topic. Write down your thesis statement and pull out the major terms in it. Then, think of as many different ways as you can to say those key terms. For example:
American Indians have diverse spiritual and religious traditions
Some keywords in this sentence are: "American Indians," spiritual, religious, and traditions. However, searching for these terms will get you only a fraction of the material that is out there, because if a different keyword is used to express the same concept you need to search for that keyword as well. So, other keywords that would be useful to use when researching this thesis topic would be: "Native American," tribal, spirituality, ritual, cosmology, practices, ceremonies, etc. You may also broaden or narrow the search by searching for a specific tribe, a specific belief, or a specific tradition - so your keywords might include Blackfeet or peyote or "Ghost Dance."
* Remember that you can combine keywords using the search limiters AND, OR, NOT. These will narrow or expand your search.
* Use quotation marks around words that make a phrase. So, search for "Native American" rather than Native American or Native AND American in a database. This will ensure that the database knows that you want the phrase "Native American" and not every article with the word Native and the word American in it!
* Tailor your keywords to the database. Not all databases will pick up all keywords. Get your list of keywords and plug them into various databases to see whether or not they are useful for you in that database. If you go into a database with keywords and don't find anything, don't get discouraged. Take your words to a different database and see what you find there.
* Remember also that spelling and word usage changes over time. A search for "Navajo" may miss articles that use the spelling "Navaho." Likewise, when searching for a term like "religion" consider using other words such as "cosmology", "ritual", "myth" -- these words may uncover some great material that you might miss by searching only for one term.
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The Mansfield Library provides a full suite of video tutorials to help you with topic selection, searching, citations, copyright and more.