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Research & Citing: Choose

Advice on choosing a topic

Choosing a topic can be the hardest part! Here are some tips:

  • Read your assignment again. Sometimes it can clue you in to some topic ideas
  • Choose something that interests you
  • Look at your textbook's table of contents or skim your chapter
  • Talk to your instructor
  • Talk to your classmates
  • You can even try searching GOOGLE or your favorite search engine. Put in some terms for your broad topic and see what kind of results you get. Anything look interesting? 

Write it down!

Once you have a topic, write it down as a short sentence or question.

Narrow your topic

Your topic must be manageable and fit the scope, audience, length and time limits of your assignments. Sometimes this means that you will need to narrow your original idea. Consider:

  • What are your personal connections to the topic?
  • Why does the topic interest you?
  • What are the more controversial or intriguing aspects?
  • Do you want to focus on a certain time period or geograhical area?
  • Generate a series of questions about your topic and see which one interests you most.

Example (from St. Martin's handbook):

Emily, a student writer is interested in the effect of advertising on American identity. This topic is too broad for her assigment. So she posted on facebook, asking her friends to post their most "American" products. She chose from among their ideas (Coke and Pepsi). So she narrowed her focus to the effect of Coke and Pepsi ads on American identity.

Broaden your topic

You might find that your topic is so narrow that there is not a lot published about it. In this case you need to broaden.

There are several ways to do this:

  • Choose less specific terms for your search. For example flowers instead of zinnias.
  • Try your search in GOOGLE Scholar. Sometimes you will get more results. Also, try clicking the "related article" link at the bottom of a citation.
  • Rememer some of those limits you added to narrow your search? Remove them. 
    • If you were focusing on a particular time period or geographic area, broaden or remove this limit
    • If you were focusing on a single perspective, like sociological or psychological, try removing it and see what you get.

For example, alcohol use by students at UGA in 1999 might be too narrow. Try expanding it to alcohol use by students at UGA, or even college students and alcohol use.

Identify keywords

Before you dive into your research, pull out your concepts and identify some keywords for searching. This will help you focus your research, and will also help when you are searching GALILEO. 

Unlike GOOGLE and other search engines, you can't type in an entire question or statement in a library database. Instead, you want to type in keywords.

Let's say your research question is: Can women really "have it all?"?

The concepts are:

1. Women

2. Family

3. Work

and probably the emotional aspects of trying to do this all at once.


Some keywords might be:

1. Women OR mothers OR moms

2. family OR household OR husband OR children

3. work OR career OR business OR success


As you progress through your research project, keep adding new terms to your list as you find them. Subject headings and article abstracts are particularly good places to look.

Identifying keywords

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