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Research : A How to Guide for Students: Step 1. Identify your topic


Frustrated? You are not alone!

Doing research in the digital age isn’t as easy as it would seem.

Research shows that students’ top frustrations include experiencing information overload, having too much irrelevant information that obscures what’s needed, and just getting started on a research assignment.

• Just begin. Select a topic to explore. Pick something that both interests you and relates to the course, and start exploring! You don't have to commit to this topic right away. Your assignment will feel much more controllable once you get off the bench and into the game.

• Minimum requirements. Make sure you understand the  assignment. Read and re-read it. Do you understand:

  • What your professor expects?
  • Page length?
  • Number and type of sources? 
  • Do you need statistical data?
  • What about primary sources?

Potential topics. Browse your syllabus to find topics that fit the scope of your course. If you have a textbook, scan the table of contents and index. For some classes, tuning in to current news sources might generate ideas. Something in your personal history may lead you to a topic, whether it's an idea that was planted in another class, something related to your home, or something you've just always been curious about.

The Goldilocks dilemma. It can be challenging to find a topic that is not too big or too small. Understanding when a topic is right-sized is something that takes practice. You'll know the feeling when you hit it, and then you can strive to repeat that perfect balance. Also, it can help to get feedback from others. Don't hesitate to ask your professor, a librarian, or a trusted friend if your topic is "right-sized" yet.

 It's who you know. If you're having trouble getting started, don't hesitate to take advantage of various services on campus. You can schedule a research appointment with a reference librarian to talk about your research (no matter how far along you are - or aren't!). If you want more help with your writing, the Writing Center can help. 

All of these services are supported with your tuition dollars, so please use them if they are helpful to you!