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Choosing a Topic


Your assignment will be either a specific research topic such as "Write a paper on the legislation concerning environmental pollution in Canada" or a broad research topic such as "Write a paper on student stress". Make sure your topic meets the assignment requirements. If you are unsure about the topic you have chosen, ask your instructor for feedback. 

Broad Research Topic

I've been given a broad research topic...where do I start?

Try a few searches in the catalogue and the databases using various search terms related to your topic. This will give you an idea of the resources available in your subject area and help you to narrow down your topic. You might want to examine a book on your research topic. Scan through the table of contents and index to get an idea of the particular areas of research within the broader subject area. Examine the topic you have chosen and determine the particular aspects of the topic you would like to cover. Questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Is there a particular application of the concept or process I'd like to cover? For example, the application of a manufacturing process at a local company.
  • Is there one issue I'd like to focus on? For example, the issue of workplace safety.
  • Is there a specific angle or perspective I'd like to cover? For example, the legislation, the standards, the history.

Narrow Research Topic

I've been given a narrow research topic...where do I start?

First, identify two or three key terms that describe your topic. For example, if you are writing a paper on the stress experienced by college students, your key terms might be stress and students. Think of some synonyms for your key terms. These words come in handy when you need to broaden your search to get more results. A synonym for stress is anxiety while a synonym for students is freshmen

The library catalogue and databases do not require that you use “and” to separate your search words. Simply enter your key terms into the search box. For the above first example, you would enter stress students into the search box.

 More Information

  • Read your course readings and class notes for ideas
  • Read scholarly subject encyclopedias for background research to learn more about your topic and find keywords
  • Brainstorm related concepts and keywords. For example, if your topic is "vegetarianism," write down synonyms or related terms: vegans, whole grains, vitamins supplements, animal rights.
  • Check out the Research Guide for your program
  • Talk to your instructor