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BIOLH 1407: Hulett

Guide to resources for students in BIOLH 1407

Picking Your Topic IS Research

Research is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process that occurs concurrently with the writing of your paper. Choosing and adjusting your topic or research question is an integral part of the research process! That's why it's called REsearch--if done correctly, you'll conduct searches for information at least a few times during the writing process.

Video via NCSU LibrariesCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

Choosing a Research Topic

Start by brainstorming some potential topics to explore further.

  • Look through your syllabus or textbook for themes, concepts, or ideas that interest you, even if you haven't covered them in class yet.
  • Search the topic or name of your course in Google or one of the topic search resources listed on the left side of this page. Check out any results that look interesting.
  • Think about your major or your hobbies. Do any of your personal interests overlap with the topic of the class?

Now that you have a potential topic in mind, find out a little more about it to make sure it will work for you.

  • Search for background information to get a general overview of the topic.
  • Sometimes what you find is not what you expected. Make sure the topic still sounds interesting, since you'll be spending a lot of time reading and writing about it.
  • Wikipedia is also a good source to use for finding background information. Be aware that your professor will probably not allow you to use Wikipedia as a source, however.

Check library article databases, such as the Science & Technology database in Academic Search Complete, to see if journalists or scholars have written about your topic in the popular press or academic journals.

Finally, you'll need to find the right scope for your topic. If it is too broad or too narrow, you may have difficulty covering it adequately in the length assigned for your research project.

  • Too broad - if you found too many results when testing the topic, you might need to choose a specific aspect to focus on. Try looking back in your background information for particular details that interest you.
  • Too narrow - if you had trouble finding any relevant information in a library database, think more broadly about the topic and what interests you. What are the larger concepts or ideas that your topic falls under?

How to Narrow a Topic

Sometimes a topic that seems like the right size can seem way too big after you’ve learned a little more about it. When this happens, you need to narrow the focus of your topic. You can do this by considering different ways to restrict your research topic.

Some of the ways you can limit your topic are by:

  • Who - population or group 
  • What - discipline or focus 
  • Where - geographic location 
  • When - time period or era 
  • Why - why is the topic important? 

For example, attempting to research invasive species would be very overwhelming. However, looking at the economic impacts of aquatic invertebrate invasive species in North America might be a good fit.

(adapted from U of Michigan - Finding and Exploring Your Topic)

Video via Langara Library.

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