Getting Started - Research - NICC Library at Northeast Iowa Community College
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First things first. What is your topic?

The topic of a paper or presentation is the main reason you are doing the research in the first place. So take your time and consider the following when making your choice of subject:

  • Consider what the research is for: A class? For fun? A favor for a loved one?
  • How much are you wanting or need to write? If it's a presentation, how long will you need to make it?
  • Are there specific sources you need for the assignment? (Think journals, books, etc.)
  • When does it all need to be done? How much time do you have to research?

Once you have your topic, what will be your research questions?

The best place to start is to write down what you know and what you don't know about the subject. These can help with the next part as it will help you delve deeper into the topic of choice.

Use your lists to start asking questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why? Although you may want to try and avoid yes/no questions as they tend to shorten things too much and leave many dead-ends.

When beginning your search online, keywords are a must.

Keywords are important words or concepts found in your research questions or thesis. A quick and easy way to find these is to start by looking at your nouns. When researching with keywords you don't need to 'fluff' it up, as it may garner more results of varying topics that you don't really need, while only specific words will garner more results with the specifics that you may actually need.

Where do you look for these keywords? 

  • In your research question or thesis
  • Encyclopedias that were used in background research
  • Check the bibliographies in articles and books
  • Use a thesaurus for similar words 
  • Ask your helpful librarians

Once you find your keywords, it's time for some background information.

You may be wondering why would you need background info before you even begin writing. Well, it can help you get a better understanding of the topic if you aren't familiar with it. You may find some important facts you'd like to add or look more at. This can lead to bibliographies and other sources that may be helpful in your search. And one of the best reasons: it can help refine your topic.

So where do we look for this information? 

Finally, it is time to refine your topic!

If you're finding too much information and feeling overwhelmed, your topic may be too broad. Look into ways to be more specific.

  • Time frame(s)
    • Civil War, Renaissance, the 1840s
  • Location(s)
    • Romania, the United States, etc.
  • Population(s)
    • age range, gender(s), occupation
  • Event(s)
    • government regulations related to food distribution, the storming of Normandy in WW2
  • Person or Group(s)
    • College Students, government officials

If you are getting frustrated because there is so little information, your topic might be too narrow. Try:

  • Generalize
    • Ex. If you are looking for specifics in a small town in Idaho, try looking into a larger area. (Like the county or the whole state)
  • Time Frame
    • If this topic is happening too recently, the information may not be readily available. You may want to try an alternative topic that isn't as recent.
  • Databases
    • Use more than just your familiar databases for your topic, or you may want to try a related subject to your topic to get a different viewpoint.
  • Synonyms
    • Look into the different terminology used for your subject to broaden your vocabulary and search.
  • Related
    • look into related issues that you can tie into your research.
  • Expand or Remove
    • look into your locations, group(s) of people, event(s), etc. to see if they are too narrow or too expansive that it messes up your search.