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Academic Research Guide

1. Brainstorm possible topics

Choosing a topic is the first, and often the most difficult, phase of the research project.

  • Consider your own interests
  • Talk with classmates
  • Look at encyclopedias or dictionaries to become familiar with discipline-specific vocabulary
  • Review class readings
  • Scan recent issues of journals or magazines (Belk Library 2nd floor)
  • Browse the shelves for books on your subject
1 brainstorm topics

2. Review assignment requirements

  • What kind of assignment is it - 5 minute oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper?
  • How much information do you need? Are you required to use a minimum number of sources?
  • Does the information need to be current or historical?
  • What types of publications do you want to read - newspaper articles, books, journal articles, trade publications?
  • What formats do you need - visual, audio, printed, electronic?
  • Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?
  • How much time do you have?
  • Which citation style should you use?
  • Who is your audience?
2 review assignment

3. List keywords to define your topic

  • A keyword is a search term that conveys the principle concept of your topic - the more complicated the topic is, the more keywords you may need
  • State your research topic as a question or a thesis statement
  • Start your list of search terms using the words in the question/statement

For example, for the question
“What effect did the Carpetbaggers have on the economy of the southern United States after the Civil War?”

sample search terms are “carpetbaggers” “Civil War" "south" "United States" and “economy”

  • Think about the significant terms, concepts and words that describe your topic - these ideas are the key to searching for information in library catalogs, online databases and other resources
  • If the words you chose aren't working, try synonyms
3 list keywords

4. Gather background information on your topic

  • Look at subject-specific encyclopedias and books to get an overview of the topic
  • The next step is to refine your topic
4 gather background