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Basic Searching Guide: Before You Start

An introduction to general searching techniques and concepts.

Developing a Topic

Coming up with a topic is the first step in any research. Often your professor or assignment may provide you with a topic but often as not you will need to develop your own topic.

Helpful hints for developing a topic:

Choose a topic that you have some interest in. It is always easier to write about something you're interested in or have knowledge of. 

Look at sources publishing in your area of interest.

  • Newspapers can provide ideas for topics based on current events or trends.
  • Reference books such as encyclopedias and subject specific encyclopedias can give you ideas focused on a particular subject.
  • Magazines and journals can provide you with ideas about what is currently being researched or reported on in a particular field.
  • The library also provides access to resources such as Points of View Reference Center  which can help formulate a topic.

Find a focus

  • Topics which are too broad such as crime, will give you so many results that will focus on all different aspects of crime that it will be hard to find a common theme. A search for crime could bring back results related to drugs, property crime, arson, prevention, prisons, etc... giving you no clear focus for your research
  • Topics which are too narrow such as arson commited by teenagers  from single parent homes in New Jersey in the 1990's might be too focused and you will not find enough information for your research. 



Using Key Terms

Once you have developed a topic you should start thinking about the KEY TERMS that describe your topic. Think of synonyms for you KEY TERMS as well. 

If your topic was: How does alcohol consumption affect rates of depression in teenagers. 

The obvious KEY TERMS in topic above would be:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Depression
  • Teenagers

Searching using these KEY TERMS would probably return very good results but there are other less obivious KEY TERMS you could use. These include:

  • Wine, beer, spirits, liqour, etc...
  • Mood, despair, etc..
  • Adolescents, high school students, college students, etc..

Once you have your KEY TERMS you are ready to begin your search.