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University of Portland Clark Library

Getting Started with Research

Developing a Topic

"Like many students, Jennie thinks that once a project is assigned she should pick her topic right away. Then she can move on to finding sources and reading through them. And once she has all her sources, she can start writing her paper. However, the research process is a lot messier than that."

Watch this video to learn more!

Where to Find Ideas for Topics

Finding Too Much?

Finding too much information? Your topic might be too big. To make it more manageable:

  • First, consider what you know.
  • Read about your topic in reliable internet sources, or read an encyclopedia article to find subtopics to explore. The link goes to a list of the library's encyclopedias and dictionaries that you can narrow to your topic area.
  • Within an article database such as Academic Search Premier, explore the Subject: Thesaurus Terms list to get ideas on areas to explore.
  • Consider the who, what, when and where of your topic.
    • Who do you want to talk about (e.g. Women, college students, Asian-Americans)?
    • What aspect of the topic interests you (e.g. legal, historical, a specific document or piece of literature)?
    • When in history -- e.g., 18th century, 1981-1985?
    • Where -- what geographical region are you curious about (e.g. Oregon, Northwest, United States, Middle East)?

Ask us for help narrowing your topic.

Not Finding Enough?

Not finding enough information? Your topic might be too focused. To expand it:

  • Expand the components of your topic. For example, instead of "free diving on Guam," look for
    • diving on Guam
    • water activities on Guam
    • free diving in general (on Guam and elsewhere)
  • Think about the issues or key players. How does free diving affect the body? How do people train to be free divers?
  • Can you generalize the issue, or find related issues or industries?
  • Another way to find more information is to develop additional keywords related to your topic.
  • What are some synonyms to the terms you were already using? (e.g., skin diving)
  • Are there any databases or indexes you haven't searched in yet?
  • Keep in mind, some topics are so new (especially current events), you may not be able to find many journal articles, so you will need to use newspapers or magazines. Look for journal articles on a related topic. | 503.943.7111 or 800.841.8261 | 5000 N. Willamette Blvd., Portland, OR 97203-5798
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