How to Find and Develop a Viable Research Topic

Identify a Topic

State your topic idea as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, “What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?”

Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are alcoholic beverages, health, and college students.

Suggestions for Finding a Topic

  • Discuss your topic ideas with your class instructor.
  • Discuss your topic ideas with a reference librarian. It may be wise to set up a research consultation.
  • Explore current topics using News Collections Online.
  • Browse these subject research guides.

Test Your Topic

Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by looking them up in the appropriate background sources or by using them as search terms in periodical databases.

  • If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by using the and operator: beer and health and college students, for example.
  • Finding too little information may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. For example, look for information on students, rather than college students. Link synonymous search terms with or: alcoholic beverages or beer or wine or liquor. Use truncation (i.e., alcohol*) with search terms to broaden the search and increases the number of items you find.

Internet Search Resources

The term “Research-quality Web Searching” reflects a belief that there is a lot of great material on the Web – primary sources, specialized directories and databases, statistical information, educational sites on many levels, policy, opinion of all kinds, and so much more – and tools for finding it are steadily improving.