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Choosing Your Topic: Your Topic

What is a good topic?

A good topic is a manageable topic that you can thoughtfully and thoroughly address within the length of your assignment. A manageable topic generally consists of 2 to 3 concepts.

Characteristics of a Good Topic:

  • Not too broad or narrow
    • The topic can be broken down into two to three important concepts.
    • A search produces a manageable amount of results that are easy to organize into a coherent paper.
  • Research exists on it
    • Others have investigated the topic before.
    • Enough time has elapsed for research to be published on the topic.
    • It's an academic topic that would interest scholarly researchers.
  • Matches scope and requirements of your assignment
    • Determine how many resources are necessary.
    • Make sure your topic addresses the areas outlined in your assignment.

What if you can't find anything?

Search Other Databases

Each database has a unique collection of resources. Try several databases to be sure you are finding all of the available articles on your topic.

Refine Your Keywords

Selecting the right keywords, or search terms, is the most difficult aspect of a search. Try to brainstorm a list of any and all search terms you could use for your topic.

See the Keyword Searching guide for help.

Expand Your Topic

You may need to think of ways to look more broadly at your topic. There may not be research on a very specifically focused topic, but there is almost always research that is related to a topic in some way. Take out keywords that focus on the more specific parts of your topic. Try using related search terms or looking at different aspects of your topic.

What if you find too much information?

Use Limits

Add relevant limits to your search. It's often a good idea to include date limits or limit to peer-reviewed articles.

Create a More Focused Topic

Add a concept or two to your search to create a more specific topic. For example, specify a population, treatment, region, etc.

Discussion & assignment topics

If your assignment provides a general idea to research, you will need to get more specific.

  • Choose a specific issue before you search.
  • Use your existing knowledge and readings to develop your topic.
  • Search for specific concepts; broad searches may find too many search results to be useful.

For example, if your assignment requires you to find an article on a current educational issue, you would want to think about a current educational issue that interests you.

  • You would use the more specific topic as a keyword.
  • If you don't have, or can't think of, a current educational issue, you could use current educational issue as a search term. A search like this is used to explore research that may be out there, and to find a more specific topic.
  • Once you explore and find a topic that interests you, you would then search for articles on that specific topic.

Dissertation topics

Should you find articles on your specific topic?

Dissertation research topics need to fill a gap in current research or practice. Your research question should not already have an answer in the research literature. You will find resources that address different portions of your topic.

How should you search?

Place the concepts from your question within the context of the existing literature. Search for portions of your topic, but not all aspects at one time.

There may be research that looks at a slightly different population, or that addresses a related intervention.

Where can you get topic ideas?

Textbook and course readings

Your required readings should give you a broad background in what is going on in your field. Look for interesting topics you can expand for your own research.

Explore the literature

If you have experience in your field you may be able to translate it into a research topic. Explore the literature of a topic that interests you and you may find ideas for your topic. Click the "Explore the Literature" tab above to learn more.

Current events and recent issues of journals

While an item in the news may be too recent to use as a topic, you may be able to relate it to an existing area of research. Recent issues of scholarly journals cover topics of current interest to researchers.