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April 4th-13th: The Library Student Survey is active!

All students should have received an e-mail invitation to take the survey with the subject line “Your Opinion Matters: Take the Library Student Survey!”

Please take a moment to fill out this short, anonymous survey and help us improve library services.

Choosing a Topic Module: Topic to Research Problem

7. Moving from a Topic to a Research Problem

Hopefully after some background research and concept mapping, you have a better idea for a research topic you're curious about. However, you will eventually need to progress from a general research topic to a more specific problem your research will address. Author Nicholas Walliman describes these key features of a research problem:

It must be:

  • stated clearly and concisely
  • significant, i.e. not trivial or a repetition of previous work
  • delineated, in order to limit its scope to practical investigation
  • possible to obtain the information required to explore the problem
  • possible to draw conclusions related to the problem.

Good areas to search for research problem include unresolved controversies, a gap in the research, or an unmet need within the subject area.

8. Finding a Gap in the Research

9. Finding Research Related to Your Topic


What is a library database? You are probably used to using Google to find information, but did you know there are many searchable collections you can access through the library website which produce more credible, scholarly, and often full-text sources? We call them library databases.  

The search box on the library homepage is a search engine for library-owned books and other items. We call it the library catalog. Simple and broad search terms are best for finding books and eBooks in the library catalog. You can also find some articles there.


Among the library's 220+ other databases are JSTOR, ProQuest Central, EBSCOHost, etc.

You can find the complete list linked from the library homepage under "Databases A-Z." Which one you search for a research project will depend on your topic. You can narrow the databases by entering a subject area, then choose one and try out your topic. Below the library catalog search box are some of the more popular databases.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, a good general place to start is ProQuest Central. This is a traditional library database which includes an enormous collection of scholarly articles, popular news and magazine articles, dissertations, etc. across many disciplines. 

10. Checking In

Choose at least one term from the concept map you created for your topic and use it to search in ProQuest Central. Are the articles in your results discussing your topic in different ways? Is there disagreement? What articles from your search can you save for later?