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Topic Development and Starting Your Search

Getting started with your research is often the most difficult part. This guide is designed to help you create a "researchable" topic and get started searching.

The Most Difficult Part of the Assignment

"Choose a topic related to the course that interests you."

This sentence (or something like it) is in so many assignments and syllabi, you would think that this is the simplest part of the assignment - pick a topic. In reality, this can be the most challenging part of the assignment, partly because we may not know yet what interests us, or, more commonly, we may have a general idea, but when we start searching the information we find is too broad or isn't really relevant.

This guide is designed to help you with developing a topic that is "researchable", that is:

A topic that is neither too broad or too narrow, and for which we can find reliable information.

Question mark


Starting Big - What is the larger focus?

Don't even know where to start? It's always best to choose something that interests you, or that you are curious about - but what if you're not even sure about that?

Here are some strategies for figuring out what course topics might interest you:

  • The Assignment - Sometimes the assignment defines your topic for you, or the professor has provided a list of potential topics. Read these. Highlight the ones that catch your attention. (Reading the assignment carefully will also help you as you begin to research and write.)
  • The Syllabus - Syllabi frequently have the general topics the course will cover for each week listed with the assignments and readings. Read over these and highlight the ones that interest you (even if you haven't covered them in class yet).
  • Your Textbooks and Course Readings - Skim the Table of Contents for your textbook or other course books. You may not be reading every chapter of the books you use for a course, but these books will be closely related to the subject and can help you discover a topic you may not have thought of.
  • Wikipedia and Other Encyclopedias - While Wikipedia can't be used as a cite-able source (see our guide on Evaluating Sources) it can be an excellent place to start if all you have is a very general idea of what you want to research. Encyclopedias (including print ones and other electronic encyclopedias like CREDO) will frequently give you an idea of related topics and vocabulary, people influential in the field, and current events - all of which can help you focus your bigger idea into a research-able size.

Once you have an idea, now you're ready to begin developing your topic into a research question.

To cite this LibGuide use the following templates:

APA: Northern Essex Community College Library. (Date updated). Title of page. Title of LibGuide. URL

MLA: Northern Essex Community College Library. "Title of Page." Title of LibGuide, Date updated, URL.