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Selecting a Research Topic

Tips for using library resources to identify a research topic.


This guide is a component of the Research Skills Toolkit. The Research Skills Toolkit is designed for researchers who are looking for resources they can explore on their own. This guide explores Selecting a Research Topic. In college, you may often have a lot of freedom to choose your own topic for a research assignment. Ideas for research topics can come from many different places, such as:

  • class readings & discussions
  • conversations with professors or classmates
  • news, the media, & the internet
  • your own personal experiences & interests
  • library collections & databases

The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to library resources that may help you select and refine a research topic. 

Need a little more help? Is there a research concept you aren't quite sure about? Librarians are here for you:

Using encyclopedias to choose a topic

Encyclopedia entries can be very handy when you are working on choosing a topic. Use them to:

  • Browse entries to find topic ideas
  • Read an entry that looks interesting to you so that you can:
    • Get an overview of a topic to decide whether or not you want to continue with it
    • Learn about major concepts or issues to decide how to narrow a topic down
    • Determine the appropriate vocabulary to use to search for more detailed information on your topic

Sometimes a general encyclopedia or Wikipedia may be sufficient. At other times, specialized encyclopedias may be more useful. Encyclopedias written on specific subjects will usually have more detailed information and are written for an academic audience. 

Remember that encyclopedias should usually be considered a starting point for research. They won't replace a peer-reviewed, scholarly source.

The duPont-Ball Library subscribes to a few databases that include many specialized encyclopedias, and we also have print and electronic encyclopedias.

Choosing a current event or issue for your topic

If you want to research a contemporary social issue, browse the following databases for background info, news, and other information that can help you learn more about & narrow down your topic.

Of course, when you are researching current events and issues, there's a high risk that you'll find information that is inaccurate or intended to mislead you. Check out the following guides for more help 

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email Call or text 386-747-9028.