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Research 101

The steps of the research process & how to apply them.

1a. Select a Topic

You Must Choose, but Choose Wisely

So your professor has assigned you a research project. You know the assignment’s requirements, but you just haven’t found a specific subject that grabs you.

See the tips and steps here to learn how to select a topic.

Develop Your Topic

Figure 1
Developing a Research Topic

Note. From Developing a Research Topic, by Madison Area Technical College Libraries, , YouTube ( Copyright by Madison Area Technical College.

How to Choose a Topic

Keep these things in mind while selecting a topic for research.

  1. Choose something you’re interested in.

  2. Pick a manageable topic:

    • If your topic is too narrow, you might not find enough information.

    • If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information.

    • Background reading can help you choose a specific topic and limit its scope.

  3. Understand your assignment:

    • Review the guidelines outlined in your assignment. Ask your professor for suggestions.

    • Refer to lecture notes and required texts to refresh your knowledge of the course.

  4. Ask the who, what, where, when, and why questions:


    Who are the information providers on this topic? Who has published information about it? Who is affected by the topic? Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?


    What are the major questions for this topic? Is there a debate about the topic? Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?


    Where is your topic important—at the local, national or international level? Are specific places affected by the topic?


    When is or was your topic important? Is it a current event or a historical issue? Will your research need to compare time periods?


    Why did you choose this subject? What interests you about it? Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?

  5. Remember that your topic is not set in stone. You may broaden, narrow, or alter it based on the resources you find. Give yourself enough time to refine it before the assignment is due.

Figure 2
Picking Your Topic Is Research

Note. From Picking Your Topic Is Research!, by North Carolina State University Libraries, , YouTube ( CC BY-NC-SA.