Choosing Your Topic

Picking Your Topic
Module 3: Choosing a Topic
This module covers topic selection and how to identify keywords to search for your topic. When you have completed this module you should be able to:
  • broaden or narrow a topic
  • identify keywords for a topic
  • use connectors and truncation in constructing a search
  • understand the difference between keyword, subject, author, and title searching
Watch the video below to get an idea about how choosing a topic may be a little more complicated than you think. ​This video was created by the North Carolina State University Library.

Picking Your Topic IS Research. “Picking Your Topic IS Research!” YouTube, May 2014, Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.

Narrowing a Topic
It's a good idea to choose a topic that interests you, something you'd like to know more about. For example, you could start with a topic that is very broad, like marketing. But you will find way too much information on this subject - enough to write several books. 

Instead, think of some aspect or sub-topic of the general subject of marketing that interests you. Maybe one of these?
  • Internet marketing
  • Green marketing
  • Marketing to special groups
Let's say you are interested in marketing to special groups. 
You could narrow the topic even more by adding a sub-topic:

to an age group              Marketing to adolescents

location       →                 Marketing in Japan

an additional topic    →       Marketing in magazines

population      →              Marketing to minorities or women

It's helpful to write out your topic as a sentence or a question. Let's say the question that most interests you is:
How do advertisers market their products to women?
Brainstorming Keywords in Concept Maps
Now you'll need to pick out the most important keywords for your searching. These are generally nouns.
How do advertisers market their products to women?
Concept maps are another way to explore different aspects of a topic. A concept map can also help generate keywords for searching.

Plurals of words are included. Try to think about alternate spellings of words or abbreviations, too. For example, for 'computers' you could narrow to PC or Macs, if you wanted to be more specific.   

Watch the video below for more information about creating a concept map for brainstorming ideas. If you are a visual learner, this may be a great resource. The video is from the Appalachian State University, Belk Library, Boone, NC.


Concept Mapping for Developing your Research. “Concept Mapping for Developing Your Research.” YouTube, 11 Jan. 2013, Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.

Keyword Searching in Databases 
The parts of each record or citation in a database are searchable. These parts are called fields. When you search by a field, the computer will look only in that field when it looks through all the records in the database. It is trying to match your term.
Author Search looks only in the  author field
Title Search looks only in the title field 
Subject Search looks only in the subject heading field
Date Search looks only in the date field to find the date an item was published.
But . . . a Keyword Search looks for items anywhere in the record, including the date, author, subject, title, and description fields. It is the broadest search. Also, keyword searching is flexible and allows you to combine more terms in a search, for example, 
"children and advertising."
Search Keywords Video
Watch this video from the University of Houston Libraries to see another way to go from a broad topic to a narrower one by choosing and changing keywords:

Search Using Keywords. “Search Using Keywords.” YouTube, 15 Apr. 2011, Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.

    Operator      Example Result
AND philosophy AND ethics
flamenco AND Spain
Retrieves records that contain     
ALL of the search terms.
OR hotels OR motels

color OR colour
Retrieves records that contain
ANY of the search terms, but
does not necessarily include
all of them.
NOT java NOT coffee
vikings NOT football
Excludes records containing
the second search term.


Truncation is like a wildcard. Added to the stem of a word, it will find that stem plus anything that comes after it. The symbol used to truncate a word depends upon the database or Web search engine you are using.  

psychol?                           will return records on psychology, psychological, or psychologist.

environ*                            will return records on environment, environments, environmental. 
(* is used as the truncation symbol in MnPALS, Academic Search Premier, and many of the library databases.)
Types of Databases
The two types of library databases that you will be using are: the library catalog (OneSearch) and article databases. You'll learn more about them in the next modules.
Library catalogs organize all of the materials a library purchases and has access to. These include records for books, ebooks, videos, sound recordings, online films, articles from magazines, journals, newspapers, etc.
Article databases are used to identify articles on a topic.

Some article databases such as Academic Search Premier or Expanded Academic ASAP are general or multidisciplinary.  If you're not sure which database to use first, start with a general one.
  Some databases specialize in a particular subject area, such as nursing, legal, or business.
Review all you have learned in this module by viewing this video from the University of Minnesota
Strategies for Choosing a Research Topic

Tutorial: Choosing a Research Paper Topic. “Tutorial: Choosing a Research Paper Topic.” YouTube, 19 Feb. 2018, Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Wrap Up
Great job!

You've completed the module Choosing a Topic and should be able to:
  • broaden or narrow a topic
  • identify keywords for a topic
  • use connectors and truncation in constructing a search
  • understand the difference between keyword and subject searching
Please continue to Module 4: Finding Books.



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Heather Biedermann

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