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LAR 101: Science & Society

Brainstorming a Topic

The first step in the research process is choosing a topic. Sometimes this is more difficult than it sounds. Your topic must be narrow enough to be interesting and give you focus, but broad enough to allow you to find enough information. Start by carefully reading the assignment to make sure you know what your professor expects from your final project. 

It may help you to draw on your own existing knowledge and experience to come up with a topic for your research assignment. Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you are brainstorming a topic.‚Äč

  • Is there an idea or concept you have learned about in the past which you would like to explore more?
  • What have you seen in the news that has interested or affected you somehow?
  • What personal experiences have you had that were particularly significant, that you can relate to your assignment?

It is also important to be flexible throughout your research process. As you look for sources, you may have to broaden, narrow, or tweak your topic based on what you find.

Finding Background Information

Once you have brainstormed a couple of possible topics, it is a good idea to read some background information about those topics. Getting a broad overview of the topic can give you perspective of how it fits in context with other related concepts. The databases listed below are like virtual encyclopedias and give you a good place to start finding background information. Check out our full list of reference databases by visiting our A-Z Database listing. You can also start gathering background information using open web tools like Google or Wikipedia, as long as you critically evaluate the sources you find.

As you read, it is a good idea to keep a list of common words used to describe your topic - these will help you as you start to search in subject specific databases!

Focusing Your Topic

Now that you've chosen a broad topic and done some background research, it's time to focus your topic and come up with your research question. A question that is too broad or too narrow will be difficult to research and answer. As you focus and develop your research question, you may find it useful to look at your topic through different research "lenses." The background information you've gathered will help you with this.

Research Lenses
Source: Hassman, K., & Hassman, B. (2017). TOPIC generation and teaching research as inquiry. In Oberlies, M. K., & Mattson, J. L. Framing information literacy, volume 1.

Which one?
Informs perspectives or choices by synthesizing and comparing information about topic(s).

Example: Which social media technology of the last 5-10 years has had the largest positive impact on personal relationships?
Explores solutions or perspectives to particular problems or topics.
Example: How should we solve the problem of rising student loan debt?
What if?
Explores solutions, perspectives, and options; can help form hypothesis.
Example: What if the United States had national paid paternal leave requirements, similar to that offered in countries like Denmark, Finland, and Iceland?
Explores ethical, moral, or practical ideas or solutions based on available information.
Example: Should state money be used to fund school voucher or savings plan programs?

Explores connections and relationships that contribute to a topic or issue.

Example: Why do students expect to get a good job after completing a college degree?

A couple of things to keep in mind as you focus your question:

Because it takes months or longer to research, write, and publish articles in scholarly journals, choosing a topic that is very recent will limit your sources to more popular materials. This might include newspapers, magazines, or blogs for general audiences. Focusing a topic within an area that is too local, such as agricultural issues in Southeastern Nebraska, will also limit the number of sources you can find. Make sure your chosen research question will allow you to meet the requirements of your assignment.

Need more help? Contact the library!

Looking for Ideas? Check the News

Sometimes the news will inspire your research topic. Check out these feeds from national news outlets.

New York Times

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Washington Post

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