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Essay Writing and Research: Getting Started

Start with a topic

The first step to any research project is to choose a topic.  Often you can choose your own topic, however at times you may be called up to write on a specific topic or to choose from a listing. 

What are you interested in finding out?

  • Select a topic that interests you whenever possible.
  • Gather and read background information.
  • Make a list of key concepts and write a research question or topic statement.  It's important to be as specific as possible!
    • Your research question or topic statement may change once you start searching.  If the question is too broad, you will need to go back and narrow your topic further. 

Concept mapping can be useful in helping you tease out your subject, identify your key concepts, and finally formulate a strong research question or topic statement.  A video can be viewed in the right column of this guide.

Gather Background Information

When you start thinking about your research project you should start by gathering background information.  This information can help:

  • Familiarize yourself with a topic.
  • Define a research topic:
    • Identify key concepts and keywords you can use in your search strategy.
    • Discover related concepts.
  • Locate other pertinent sources you can use to complete your assignment.

Things to consider before you start your research:

  • What kind of information sources will I need?
  • How much information do I need?
    • A few facts or as much as I can find?
  • Which time period should be covered by my search:
    • the current year? the last five years?

Finally, it's important to remember that you should have a sound grasp of your topic before you start your research.  If you can't easily discuss or explain your topic to friends and/or family, we recommend that you gather more background information.  Any gaps in understanding will cause issues in formulating your research question and understanding the literature you will gather to write your final assignment.

Specialized Encyclopedias and Dictionnaries

Reference tools such as specialized encyclopedias are good starting points to find background information on your topic. Here are some online reference tools that will help you familiarize yourself with your topic.

Formulate a Winning Search Strategy

Concept Mapping of Ideas