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Knight-Capron Library Orientation

Developing a Research Topic and Choosing Keywords

1 | Study The Research Process infographic 

2 | Read over Developing a Research Topic

2 | Read over Choosing Keywords and test out the Keyword Generator

3 | Take the quiz!

The research process has six steps, described below: 

Step 1 | Find a topic you're interested in.

Step 2 | Identify keywords connected to the topic.

Step 3 | Use these keywords to search for articles and books related to the topic in library databases or Google Scholar and scan them to see if they're relevant to your research.

Step 4 | Sometimes, your searches will lead you to change your research topic, which is okay; just go back to Step 2 and identify some new keywords.

Step 5 | Evaluate the sources you've gathered for accuracy and relevance to your topic and cite them properly.

Step 6 | Synthesize the sources you've evaluated into a clear, original thesis statement and write your research paper.

The Research Process

Step One in the Research Process is Finding a Topic. Sometimes this is the most challenging part of the process. 

1. Start by brainstorming some potential topics to explore further.

  • Look through your syllabus or textbook for themes, concepts, or ideas that interest you.
  • Search the topic or name of your course in Google or a library reference database, like Credo. Check out any results that look interesting.
  • Think about your major or your hobbies. Do any of your personal interests overlap with the topic of the class? Is there something happening in the news that relates to your topic?

2. Now that you have a potential topic in mind, find out a little more about it to make sure it will work for you.

  • Search for background information to get a general overview of the topic.
  • Sometimes what you find is not what you expected. Make sure the topic still sounds interesting, since you'll be spending a lot of time reading and writing about it

3. It's possible that your topic will change or evolve as you begin searching for evidence. That's OK. It's all part of the process. 

Library Resources that Can Help

Credo Reference is a database of full text online encyclopedias, dictionaries and reference books covering all subject areas. Their concept maps may be a great place to help you brainstorm topic ideas and to gather background information. 

Issues and Controversies is another database that may help with topic selection. It covers many current events and their reports on topics in politics, business, education, health, science, human rights, society, and culture are updated weekly.

Step Two in The Research Process is Identifying Keywords Connected to your Topic. These keywords will be your search terms as you look for articles and evidence. Taking a few minutes to think about and identify some keywords before starting your search will help you search more efficiently which will save you time

1. Identify important concepts from your research question (look for nouns)

2. Brainstorm some synonyms (to help you find more information)

3. Keep track of useful terms you discover during research









Creating Your Own Keywords

Keyword Generator Tool - Created by the University of Texas Library, the "generator" is designed to help you think about the essential parts of your topic, identify additional terms, and construct a search statement.

Finding New Keywords from Your Search Results

Different subjects will often have their own specific terms to describe something. Keeping an eye out for subject-specific language will give you clues as to which subjects are writing about your research question, and what words you can use to search. 


Once we get into database searching you'll see Subject Terms or Author-Supplied Keywords attached to the articles you find. In cases like this where they're hyperlinked, you can follow them to find other articles on the same topic. These were some of the subject terms I found attached to an article about college binge drinking.