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Getting Started with Research at Shapiro Library

This guide discusses understanding information sources, formulating a topic and search phrase, where and how to search the library for information, how to evaluate sources, how to cite sources, and more.

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a Topic

When selecting a topic for your research, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will it sustain my interest?
  • Am I choosing a topic because it seems easy or my friends are doing it?
  • Does it fit the parameters of my assignment?
  • How much time do I have and how long does the assignment need to be?
  • Is credible information on this topic readily available?

Check out Choose a Research Topic from the University of California Santa Cruz Library or the video below for more help:

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Brainstorming is a way to come up with topics or ideas. It allows a person to casually consider multiple topics, ideas, theories, etc. without judgement and to take some ideas further into actual projects or as tools to consider more topics, ideas, theories, etc. Click here for more information about brainstorming.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your issue or topic. It is a tool which is used to visualize ideas and opportunities for broadening or narrowing down search topics. Click here for more information on mind mapping.

There are a number of free brainstorming and mind mapping tools available online like and Popplet. Alternatively, try the mind map available via Credo Reference (click "Mind Map" on the Credo Reference homepage):

Mind Map Screenshot


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Need help finding or deciding on a topic?

The following databases and web resources contain lists of topics you can browse through for inspiration:

When you need to broaden or narrow down your topic, ask yourself:

Who? - Who am I researching?

  • Consider age, gender, profession, ethnicity, humans vs. animals vs. corporations, etc.

What? - What am I researching?

  • Consider potential causes and effects, trends, statistics, problems, etc.

When? - What time period am I interested in? 

  • Consider when the topic became significant, century vs. specific dates, historical vs. current data, etc.

Where? - Where is my research topic taking place? 

  • Consider country, state, city, urban vs. rural, environments like prisons vs. college towns, etc.

Why? - Why does my research matter?

  • Consider what makes it important to you, to your colleagues and peers, to your community, to the world, etc.
Narrowing Down Topic Flowchart

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What is a Research Question?

A research question is the question that is answered by your research. So when you are developing one, you want to ask yourself: What do you want to know about a topic? When doing research, you want to address your topic as a question for which there are no immediate answers. For example:

TOPIC: video games and violence

RESEARCH QUESTION: Does playing violent video games lead to juvenile violence?

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Developing a Research Question

When you need to develop a research question, you want to ask yourself: what do you want to know about a topic? Additionally, you'll want to determine WHO you are researching, WHAT you are researching, WHEN your research topic takes place, WHERE your research topic takes place, and WHY you are researching this topic.

Try these steps to formulate a research question:

Research Question Flowchart

Check out these links and the video below for more information:

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Example Research Questions

The following are some examples of research questions built from topics, subtopics, and issues/problems:

Sample Research Questions
Environment Global Warming Global Warming in the United States What can the United States do to identify and prevent global warming?
William Shakespeare King Lear King Lear and the theme of betrayal How could the character of King Lear change the outcome of betrayal in the play?
Censorship Internet Internet and China How will China's efforts to censor the Internet affect its citizens?
Whales Minke whales Minke whales and extinction What factors have contributed to the Minke whale depopulation?

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