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Refine Research Questions: Topics

Need Assistance

Reference librarians are available for consultation:

  • At the Reference Desk in the campus library
  • By appointment
  • Through email

A Reference librarian can help you:

  • Determine which database is most likely to lead you to articles or materials on your topic
  • Help you determine if an article or journal is scholarly
  • Develop an effective search strategy for your research paper
  • Choose search terms for database and library catalog searching
  • Find citations from books and articles to locate additional materials

Topics: the freedom of choice

When selecting a topic:

  1. Choose topics of interest to you.
  2. Choose topics that meet the requirements of the assignment.
  3. Choose topics that contribute to the discussion of a research topic.

From a set list of topics:

  1. Choose a part of a topic.
  2. Choose an approach (i.e. viewpoint) to a topic.


  1. Review course readings and class notes for topic ideas.
  2. Preliminary reading is necessary for topic selection.
  3. A topic needs to be researchable.

Using a Topic to Generate Questions

Research requires a question for which no ready answer is available. What do you want to know about a topic? Asking a topic as a question (or series of related questions) has several advantages:

1. Questions require answers. A topic is hard to cover completely because it typically encompasses too many related issues; but a question has an answer, even if it is ambiguous or controversial.



Drugs and crime

Could liberalization of drug laws reduce crime in the U.S.?

2. Questions give you a way of evaluating the evidence. A clearly stated question helps you decide which information will be useful. A broad topic may tempt you to stash away information that may be helpful, but you're not sure how. A question also makes it easier to know when you have enough information to stop your research and draft an answer.

3. A clear, open-ended question calls for real research and thinking. Asking a question with no direct answer makes research and writing more meaningful to both you and your audience. Assuming that your research may solve significant problems or expand the knowledge base of a discipline involves you in more meaningful activity of community and scholarship.