2. Consider the scope of your topic. If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information. If it is too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information.
Think about your assignment prompt while determining the scope of your topic. It is important to consider the size of the assignment and the length of time you have to complete it in thinking about scope.
3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. Know that your research question may change slightly depending on what sorts of resources you find. While you should have a topic or question in mind, allow the sources you find, along with your interests, to help shape and refine your topic further.
Questions to guide the development of your research question:
Is it focused enough to be covered in my paper or project?
Is there enough literature available on this topic?
What is the question that my research is answering?
Am I genuinely interested in this topic?
Is my topic going to be new and interesting to my audience?
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 using 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:
Thesis: Although often overlooked, libraries and librarians played an important role in the American Civil Rights Movement through an emphasis on the professional principles of equal access to all as well as by supporting literacy and voting rights campaigns.
Some keywords in this sentence include: libraries, librarians, civil rights, literacy, voting. 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: American Library Association, public libraries, integration. You may also broaden or narrow the search by searching for a specific library, a specific state or a specific issue. Your keywords might include "Chicago Public Library" or Louisiana or segregation.
* 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 "civil rights" rather than civil rights or civil AND rights in a database. This will ensure that the database knows that you want the phrase "civil rights" and not every article with the word civil and the word rights 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.
BUT. . .
* Remember in historical research that some databases, particularly those that search historical primary documents like newspapers and magazines, may use keywords that are outdated or distasteful to contemporary researchers. For example, searching for "African American" in some newspaper databases will not turn up much material, but searching for "Negro" will, simply because of the language that is used in the articles.
Chat with a Librarian
Use the Chat in the lower right corner of library webpages, from 10am-4pm Monday-Friday during spring semester. Submit questions using the Email a Librarian link outside of those hours.
We will respond to messages within 24-48 hours Monday-Friday.
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