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Research Basics

A Guide to Academic Research at Dugan Library

Select a Topic

What Should I Look for in a Topic?

Look for a topic that:

  • Connects to your interests. You will write a better paper if you see reasons the topic matters. Just be careful about bringing preconceived notions to your research.
  • Has scholars writing about it. Some topics are great in theory, but will be hard research if little has been written about it.
  • Is the right scope for your assignment. If your topic is too broad or too narrow it may be hard to research or fit to your assignment requirements.

What if I Can't Think of a Good Topic?

  • Look at assigned readings or notes from class for concepts that stood out as particularly important or interesting.
  • Ask your professor or a librarian for ideas.
  • Browse library databases and the internet for what others are writing about.

Create a Research Question

Once you have a general topic, the next step is to create a research question. This is helpful because it focuses the your research on resolving a specific issue and will help you later on as you write a thesis statement. As the name implies, a research question should end with a "?" For example, a broad topic like "cybersecurity" could be narrowed to the research question "How can security experts prepare for quantum computers?"

As you research you will be looking for credible evidence that from a variety of sources that help you answer your research question. A good research question should be:

  • Open-Ended – your question should allow for a variety of answers (not just yes/no) so that you can let the evidence take the lead.
  • Simple – your question can be refined and adjusted as you learn more about the topic, but starting with a simply worded question makes developing a search easier. Compare trying to answer "What interventions help people stop smoking?" vs "Is the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program effective for elderly smokers in upper midwestern states?" The second question is so complex and detailed that it will be hard to find many sources that address all of it.

Develop a Thesis Statement

Later in the research process, your research question will also help you develop a thesis statement for your paper. After evaluating the evidence you found in your searching, your thesis statement will serve as the answer to your research question and the organizing core of your paper.

For guidance on writing a strong thesis statement, see the How to Write a Thesis Statement guide from the University of Indiana Writing Tutorial Services.