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Primary Research

Choosing a Topic

Deciding on your topic or research question is one of the first steps you'll take when working on your research project. Unfortunately, it's often not as easy as thinking of a topic and choosing it.

Many individuals think of research as a linear, step-by-step process. When you're conducting research, choosing your topic is one part of the research cycle that you'll have to return to a few times.

Choosing your topic is research. When you're deciding on a topic, you need to review the existing literature to help refine your topic and see what secondary research already exists.

Below are a handful of tips to help you begin exploring your topic:

Literature Review

Review Existing Research

As you brainstorm topic ideas you're interested in, start searching. You may not end up finding any sources that you use within your final report, but preliminary searches allow you to get a sense of the existing literature and research landscape.

Where Should I Search?

Listed below are a few general research databases which contain literature across academic disciplines. Depending on your topic, subject and discipline specific databases might be helpful. Our research guides and Database A-Z list can point you in the direction of where to search for subject-specific information.

How Should I Search?

Start with searching for your topic! As you review the results, pay attention to these things:

  • Are the results that you're getting relevant to your topic of interest? Look at the words researchers use when writing about your topic. Research articles will often list keywords to help readers find them.
    • If the results you're getting aren't relevant at all, broaden your search by using Google and see if there are other words researchers use when writing about your topic area. Or, of course, ask for help from a librarian!
  • Are there other, related topics that often come up?
  • How much has already been written on your topic? When doing primary research, you may not find a huge amount of existing research on your topic. That's okay! It may mean that you'll have to dig deeper, ask for help, and explore a variety of sources of information.

Web Searching

Searching the Web

It's easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information available online. Try some of the techniques below to search the web more effectively.

Use the site: Operator in Google

In the Google search engine, there are special tools to help you search, called "operators."

Typing "site:" in your Google search before a website domain will limit your search to that domain. Some examples: dining (searches all the web pages) parking policies (searches all websites that end with .edu)

Look at Professional Organizations

Depending on your area of interest, there may not be a huge number of published research articles. Searching the web might be your best source of information. See if there are any related professional organizations; their websites will often include links to other resources, news stories, and/or trade publications.