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Information Literacy and the Research Process - Sellersburg: Defining Your Topic

Step 1: Choose a Topic

First you want to choose your topic. 

You may have been:

  • assigned a topic by your instructor
  • given a list of topics that you can pick from
  • be able to pick any topic that you want

If you have been assigned a topic then you are all set to move on to the next step in your research, but if you still have to decide what you want to cover in your paper, you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of possible topics.  A good rule of thumb is to pick a topic that you are interested in.  It will make the research and writing of your paper a bit less painful and you might even find it to be interesting and possibly fun. 

For example, if your paper is for a class covering issues in nursing care, you should look for a topic that is relevant to your assignment and to what you class is covering. Try browsing industry publication, news headlines, or subject specific reference materials to get ideas.

Step 2: Develop a Working Knowledge

Your next step will be to expand your working knowledge of your topic.  This will require you to do some reading on your topic in encyclopedias and general references sources. 

Here are some suggestions for where you can go to gain a working knowledge:

Step 3: Formulate Your Research Question

Once you have developed a working knowledge of your topic, the next step is to develop a research question. 

You might be thinking, I already have a topic so why do I need a research question?  Well, let's go back to our topic about nursing.   Nursing itself is too broad of a topic to cover in one paper.  So say after developing your working knowledge of nursing, you found out that there is a specific area of nursing that covers the care of terminally ill patients.  You also discovered that this type of care is called Hospice care.  So ask yourself, what do I want to learn from my research?

How about:

What role do nurses take in Hospice care?

How do nurses care for terminally ill patients in Hospice?

Step 4: Choose Keywords

Picking the right keywords can mean the difference between getting back the results you want and getting back articles and books that have nothing to do with your topic.  You want to pick 2-4 keywords that best cover what you are looking for in an article or book.  The key to keywords is to think about your research question and pick out the most important parts of the question. 

How do nurses care for terminally ill patients in Hospice?

Keywords: Nurses, terminally ill patients, Hospice

You also want to think about alternate spellings and synonyms.

Example: nursing, patient care 


Now that you have chosen you topic, developed a working knowledge, come up with a research question, and chosen 2 - 4 keywords, it is time to move on to the next step...searching databases for articles and books covering your topic.

To do this we will have to move onto the next phase in the research process: Searching.

Click on the 'Research Strategy' tab at the top of the page to move on or click the next button below.