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The Research Process: Develop a topic

A step-by-step guide to conducting research for your project

Getting An Overview of Your Topic

Scanning your topic in an encyclopedia, dictionary, or handbook will provide background information that can:

  1. provide a summary of the subject
  2. help to identify terminology (words used in that subject area)
  3. note important people and events
  4. set a timeline
  5. lead to additional sources

Having this general information can jump-start your search for books, articles, and websites.

Other Helpful Searching Tips

Summing It All Up!

Developing Your Topic or How to Find Your Search Vocabulary

Whether you're looking for --

  • books,
  • magazine articles 
  • scholarly journal articles
  • newpaper articles
  • websites

-- you need to tell the computer how to look for the information you want to find.  You need to develop your topic.  Note the following steps and see the example in the box below.

  1. Focus your topic by writing a statement or asking a question.
  2. Select the important words or phrases contained in that question or statement.  These words become your keywords or search terms.
  3. List synonyms or alternatives to your keywords so you don't miss out on relevant information.
  4. Write your search strategy (how you talk to the computer), by combining keywords. A search strategy can be a single keyword or phrase or can include all your keywords and the words "and", "or", "not". 

If you're having trouble coming up with a topic question or statement, consider the following questions with your topic in mind:

  • What about the topic interests you?  What do you want to know?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is the focus of the topic?
  • Why is it important?
  • When is the timeframe?


If you can't find any information for your assignment or you don't know where to begin try these 4 steps:

1. Write out your topic as a statement or question. (if you need help with this step try creating a workable research question or from topic to reseach question)

      Is memory loss related to aging?

2.  Select the main concepts or keywords.

      The research question, "Is memory loss related to aging?" has two main concepts

  • memory loss and
  • aging

3.  In order to expand your "searching vocabulary" list synonyms or alternatives for your concepts or keywords. (Note: You may not need or want synonyms for every  concept or keyword)

  • memory loss    or    amnesia    or    Alzheimer's    and
  • aging    or    aged    or    elderly    or   seniors

4.  Combine your keywords (by choosing from each concept) and add the word AND or OR.  This will help you and the computer get results.

Remember: You can search using a single word or phrase or a more elaborate combination!

See: OtherHelpfulSearchingTips