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Research : A How to Guide for Students: Step 2. Brainstorm


Free association. Take a few minutes to think freely about your topic. Write down aspects of the topic, related terms, broader and narrower terms, questions, and any other ideas that occur to you. What do you know already and what do you want to know?

Map it. Consider making a concept map to help understand the relationships between terms and concepts.

If you love colored markers or highlighters, this is the time to get them out. You can do this as a solo activity, but doing it in a group can both hasten and improve your thinking. Even if you are writing an individual paper, consider asking a friend or classmate to help you brainstorm.


Words matter. If you think of synonyms or related words that describe aspects of your topic, jot them down. These will be helpful later when you move to the computer. Examples:

  • mobile phones > cell phones
  • religion > theology
  • politics > political science
  • pharmacy > pharmacology
  • drugs > pharmaceuticals


Disciplines matter. Consider which disciplines or subject areas have something to do with your topic. Sometimes it is helpful to answer the question "who cares?"   Knowing which disciplines are already in conversation about your topic will help you know where to look for information.

In the form of a question, please. Now is the time to begin turning your TOPIC into a RESEARCH QUESTION. Pare your broad TOPIC down to a more specific RESEARCH QUESTION:

Topic Development