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UWS 8b: The American Dream


Choosing a topic can be a challenging first step in the research process. Put some thought and energy into this step and pick a topic that you are excited to learn more about. But, at the same time, you want avoid getting off track and spending too much time on this process.

Build Background Knowledge about Your Topic

Reference sources, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, will be useful for refining your topic and coming up with keywords. Some of entries will contain bibliographies which you can use to locate key books and articles on your topic.

Identifying Key Concepts & Brainstorming Keywords

Before you jump into searching, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes thinking about your research question and brainstorming for keywords that you can use in your searching.

Think about your topic as a research question and then identify the key concepts.

Example research question: How does use of social media affect the grades of undergraduate students?

With this example research question, the key concepts would be:

social media AND grades AND undergraduate students

Once you have identified your keywords, brainstorm for additional terms.

For each of the keywords you recorded in your previous answer, think of synonyms or alternative terms.

Try to think of terms that are broader in meaning, as well as terms that narrower in meaning. These broader terms may help you expand your search if you are not finding enough information, while narrower terms may help you focus your research.

For this example research topic, you might identify these keywords:

social media Facebook, Twitter
grades academic achievement, GPA, academic performance
undergraduate students college students

As you read information about your topic, note the suggested terms that come up in some of the databases. These terms might be good to use in future searches.