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Introduction to Library Research: Choosing a Topic

A video presentation on starting your research using the resources at the Macdonald-Kelce Library at The University of Tampa.

Choosing a Topic

Choose a topic you find inherently interesting and are curious to learn more about. Browsing newspapers, encyclopedias, or subject specific reference works may help you identify a research topic. Log in to E-search first for full access to Databases.

Access World News- A collection of local, national and international print and online news sources with special reports on current issues easily organized in easily searchable catagories.

CQ Researcher and CQ Global Researcher- Single themed reports on domestic and international issues respectively. 

EBSCO eBook Collection- Browsable by category.

Gale Virtual Reference Library- Multidisciplinary collection of encyclopedias and subject specific reference works.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center- Extensive browseable list of topics and hot button issues.

Refining a Topic

An initial topic may be very broad and based on general interest in the subject but you will need to identify a specific aspect of that topic to manageably research.

  • If your topic is too broad (e.g. World War II or crime) there will far too much information.
  • If your topic is overly narrow though finding enough information will be challenging.
  • Honing in on which facet of a topic interests you requires preliminary reading of reference works, internet sources, and books. Taking the time to read background information will also help you to establish if your topic is appropriate for a research paper and if there is sufficient interest and scholarship for you to gather the amount of information needed.
  • The biggest hurdle at the start of any research project is figuring out the correct language to use. Typically, the language you and I use to discuss a topic is not the same language used by experts. The first step in any research project is deciding what jargon and key words the experts in the field you're researching use.

Limiting the focus of a topic can help you to narrow the scope of your research:

  • Time frame
  • Geographic location
  • Demographic group
  • Specific event
  • Category of analysis: social, economic, cultural, etc...


Print Reference Sources

Find a topic by browsing subject specific reference works in print. Some examples are linked below or look for more through the Online Catalog by keyword and limiting your search to Reference.

Child Labor : A Global View (2004)

Comparative Health Policy (2007)

Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues (2000)

Illicit Drug Policies, Trafficking, and Use the World Over (2007)

The Encyclopedia of American Prisons (2003)

World at Risk : A Global Issues Sourcebook (2002)

From Question to Problem to Claim

  • Ask open ended questions that require complex answers. Who, what, when, or where are easily answered questions that relate factual information. A good research paper asks more nuanced questions like why and how.
  • Evaluate your questions: Why is it worth asking? What can be gained by attaining greater understanding? What are the broader implications or consequences? Why is it significant?
  • Does your question and its possible answer present an original contribution to existing scholarship? Remember research is not summary or reporting. Your goal as a researcher is to add something new or to further the conversation in some way through your own analysis.
  • Think about what problem you hope to find a solution to through your research. This will help you identify why it deserves research and communicate why it is of value to your readers.
  • As you begin to read books and articles you may notice inconsistencies, contraditions, unsubstantiated claims, unanswered questions, or the use of dubious evidence which can lead you to ask new questions or lead you to areas worthy of deeper exploration.
  • Your claim, thesis statement, or argument is your proposed answer to the problem posed by your research question. Your research and analysis of sources provide the evidence which supports your claim.
  • Your claim need not be absolute. Oftentimes your research may prove inconclusive, there may be a variety of valid alternatives, or it may be that not enough information is available.