Brainstorming to Focus
Once you choose a general topic, you will need to decide how you will focus your research to examine a particular aspect of that topic. What interests you about this topic? What do you want to investigate more deeply? You might find it helpful to do some brainstorming about this right away.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
Here is a handout that you can use to work through this process (originally created by Peer Research Consultant Kyle Irvine '21):
Expanding on Existing Research:
No piece of research stands alone; each is part of a broader scholarly conversation in that topic/ field. You can use a single article or other resource to find other, similar research by tracing the paths of that conversation:
Keywords – Check the abstract, subject terms and full-text to discover the vocabulary being used in this particular scholarly conversation.
Subject Terms – Subject terms not only provide insight into vocabulary you should use but also serve as search tools – click on these tags in any database (or the catalog) to find more resources on a given topic.
Cited References – Check the references list (or bibliography) to see what previous research this resource is drawing on. From here, you may wish to consider:
- Previous articles or books published on your topic
- Other authors who have published on your topic
- Journals where your topic is frequently discussed
Times Cited – Check Google Scholar to see which articles or books have cited your sources, and to find
more-recent research which builds on your original information.
** Once you find a new resource, you can also trace the scholarly conversation around that book/article to find even more resources! **
For a simpler, graphic representation of this research strategy, download the handout below:
How Searches Work:
There are two different ways in which research tools tend to function.
Some tools -- Google and other web searches as well as certain databases -- conduct what is called a full-text search, which scans every word of the document(s) being searched from beginning to end.
Others, including the majority of our research databases and the library catalog, conduct what is called a bibliographic or metadata search. These tools scan only the metadata, or descriptive information about the documents they contain -- titles, abstracts, subject keywords and other info. This is why searching for sentences or entire phrases often works poorly in the research databases, and why Google produces so many more matches.
So which do you choose?
A bibliographic search will bring you fewer results, but will be tailored to results that mention your terms in the descriptive information (and therefore, are more likely to be relevant).
A full text search will bring you a greater number of results, but more of them are likely to be irrelevant (for example, if your search term appears only once in the document in an off-hand mention). However, it might catch some articles that you might not see otherwise, and may help you find articles whose bibliographic information uses different terminology to describe your topic.
You may want to experiment with tools that conduct both kinds of searches, to get the widest range of resources on your topic.
Choosing Search Terms:
Here are some general tips to guide you in choosing your search terms:
If your keywords aren't turning up many results, you may need to: