Skip to main content

**Research Basics**: Choosing a Topic

Easy to follow guide on how to do research step by step, from start to finish. Choosing and researching a topic, using library materials, finding books and articles, search strategies, evaluating information and more!

Choosing a Topic

Trying to find and decide on a topic can often be complicated and frustrating. Your professor may provide a general topic on which to base your assignment but often you will be required to focus on some aspect of that topic.

[Credit: University of Cincinnatti Libraries on YouTube]


  • Course material: Refer to your assignment for general topic guidance; review course notes and textbooks.

  • Brainstorming: take the general topic and create a concept map. From there you may find some aspect of the topic you would like to explore.

  • Try to pick a topic that is broad enough to find plenty of research materials, but narrow enough to handle in the length of paper you have been assigned. You can then gradually narrow it down to a specific aspect of that topic that interests you, such as focusing on a particular place, person(s), event, and/or time.

  • Consider discussing your specific topic ideas with your instructor or one of our librarians.

  • Choose an interesting topic. You’ll have more motivation to do a research assignment if there is genuine interest in the topic. If the research assignment is unrestricted, relate the topic to some personal experience or issue of personal relevance. If you have no personal interest in the assigned topic, pick an aspect of the topic you are curious to know more about.

Investigating a Topic

Investigating Your Topic

After choosing a topic, you will need to locate sources that give basic background information about the subject. Finding background information at the beginning of your research is especially important if you are unfamiliar with the subject area, or not sure from what angle to approach your topic. Some of the information that a background search can provide includes:

  • Broad overview of the subject
  • Definitions of the topic
  • Introduction to key issues
  • Names of people who are authorities in the subject field
  • Major dates and events
  • Keywords and subject-specific search terms
  • Bibliographies that lead to additional resources

For help further investigating a topic, consider browsing in a subject encyclopedia such as:

gale (online).

We also have many print encyclopedias-- general subject and topic-specific-- in the library (click here to browse). Once you choose a topic that interests you, these types of books can be a good resource to gather some basic facts and background information on your topic.

(Format taken from Penn Libraries, University of Pennsylvania,

For helpful hints on Narrowing a Topic, see the sidebar to the right of this page.

Next, we'll learn some search strategies to help give you the most relevant results!



back next



Ask a Librarian

Need research assistance?
Click to Meet with a Librarian

Contact the library:
Call us at 401-341-2289
Email us at
Chat with us from any library web page
Text us at 401-324-9542
Visit us at the information desk

Narrowing a Topic

Narrowing Your Topic
Now that you have your topic and are armed with some broader information about your topic, you can begin to think of ways to narrow your topic so that it fits with the length of your paper; you want a topic broad enough that will provide you with enough information but not so broad that you have problems focusing your paper. 

Example--Too-broad a topic:
"Eating Disorders."  
The library has hundreds of books and thousands of articles about eating disorders. One way to narrow "eating disorders" to a manageable topic is to combine it with related concepts:

...and answers

...California, Colleges & Universities; Canada, etc.

...Now, Early 20th century, Victorian Period, etc.

...Women, Men, Athletes, Adolescents, etc.

...Anorexia, Bulimia, EDNOS, Pica, Orthorexia, etc.

Narrower topics:

  • Causes and treatment of bulimia in college athletes
  • Prevalence of anorexia in teenage males in the United States
  • Changes in treatment for binge eating disorder, 1960-present


(Format taken from Penn Libraries, University of Pennsylvania,