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LIS2005 : Getting Started

Advanced Electronic Access to Information

Course Content: Beginning your research

Selecting a Research Topic

Selecting A Research Topic

Before attempting to search for Internet resources, you should have a clear idea of your topic and the kinds of information you will need.

To identify a research topic, try:

  • Suggested topics from instructors, texts, or readings
  • News stories or social concerns that interest you
  • Your own business, hobby, sports, or personal interest area
  • A site like Hot Paper Topics, which complies a list of common topics seen in college level courses. 

In addition to the sites above, which were designed specifically to help students choose topics, the following sites may also be helpful.

The following library databases might also be consulted. These are subscription databases which require a student ID number and PIN. Lesson 4 will discuss library databases in more depth.

  • CQ Researcher
  • Issues and Controversies
  • Opposing Viewpoints in Context

One of the most common problems in trying to come up with a topic is narrowing a broad subject to a topic that is specific enough to handle within the constraints of a research paper. The following list provides three subjects and some possible topics within each subject.

 Subject: Alternative Medicine

  • Topic: Can hypnosis cure disease?
  • Topic: Should insurance companies reimburse patients who use "unproven" treatments?
  • Topic: Does the interest in alternative medicine suggest that conventional medicine is failing?

 Subject: Animal Rights

  • Topic: Should animal tissues and organs be transplanted into human beings?
  • Topic: Is animal dissection or vivisection still necessary as a teaching tool?
  • Topic: Should animal experimentation for cosmetics be abolished?

 Subject: Home Schooling

  • Topic: Does home schooling isolate children socially?
  • Topic: Should home schooling parents be required to be certified in the subjects they teach?
  • Topic: Should public schools offer extra-curricular activities for home-schooled children?

A specific topic may not be obvious when you first start a research project. You may need to practice some of the activities outlined in Module 2, where you will purposefully attempt to narrow and focus your topic.


Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License

Copyright © 1997-2012 Florida Community College, Learning Resources Standing Committee. Last revised August 2012 by the LIS 2004 Course Revision Committee.

Focusing Your Topic

Focusing Your Topic

 You may need to begin your research project by using resources such as encyclopedia articles or books to gain a basic understanding of the scope of your topic. Look at the basic concepts or ideas your topic involves and decide whether you need to focus on a specific aspect of the subject. You may need to narrow or broaden the scope of your topic. The Internet Public Library provides a guide on Looking For and Forming a Focus.

One basic source for background information on research topics is, a group of encyclopedias that offer a free abridged version on the Internet. There are also a number of specialized encyclopedias available either on the Internet or accessible through your local library system, which will provide background material on your topic.

 My Facts Page: Encyclopedias at provides a list of online subject encyclopedias.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia created and maintained by users. Because the authors are unknown and entries can be edited by anyone, credibility of the content is sacrificed. Read their disclaimer here. Lesson 7 will discuss the pros and cons of Wikipedia in more depth.

 Questions to help you state a topic: When selecting your topic, consider the following questions.

  1. What terms and keywords are frequently used to describe the topic?
  2. What dates are important to the topic?
  3. What specific places are important to the topic?
  4. What important events are related to the topic?
  5. Which people, groups or organizations have made a significant contribution or have been involved in some way with the topic?
  6. Which subject or discipline is the topic part of?
  7. Are there any conflicting views or controversies surrounding the topic?

 As you answer these questions by thoughtfully examining your topic, you will be building a body of search terms, concepts, and ideas that will help you engage in productive research as you continue with the process.

You may also need to visit your local library or search an online library catalog to find background material, usually in books, for your topic and to get a sense of how much information will be available on the topic.

  1. LINCCWeb provides access to all of the Florida Community College library catalogs, and specifically to Indian River State College's databases. Items may be requested by current students from any of the statewide collections.
  2. The State University Libraries of Florida provides access to eleven of the Florida State University library catalogs.
  3. WorldCat provides links to library catalogs worldwide.

Interlibrary Loan: Your local college or public library may offer interlibrary loan services that allow you to borrow materials located in remote library catalogs. It may take a week or even longer to borrow material via interlibrary loan so begin your research early. In addition, any student enrolled in a state institution of higher education in Florida has reciprocal borrowing privileges at all community college libraries and all state university libraries.

 Searching the online catalog: As you peruse the online catalog for books and material in alternative formats, consider the following questions:

  1. Approximately how many titles are in the online catalog on your topic? What, if anything, can you tell from the listed titles, dates and authors?
  2. Are there subheadings displayed for the topic?
  3. Are cross-references or alternative headings displayed for the topic?
  4. Will your local library be able to support your topic, or will you need to get material from other libraries through interlibrary loan?


Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License

Copyright © 1997-2012 Florida Community College, Learning Resources Standing Committee. Last revised August 2012 by the LIS 2004 Course Revision Committee.

Watch: The Information Cycle


Read the entire 2007Beyond Google.” article by Alison Head. This early study formed the basis for Project Information Literacy.

Then, look at the Project Information Literacy Progress Report.  Read the abstract, note key findings and read the conclusions. Note the student comments in particular. Student comments are indented, italicized, and quoted throughout the document.

The two studies are indicative of problems students face when conducting research at the college level. Consider the conclusions from each study. Discuss how these findings mirror or differ from your behavior/experience/anxiety with research. Do you disagree with any of the findings? Comment honestly on your use of Google (or any other search engine).  Include a reaction to at least one student comment from the Project Information Literacy report.

Present your thoughts in a 500 word essay. Email your essay to me at Spelling and grammar count. If you use any additional sources, please cite them correctly in APA style. The APA style guide is linked at the top of the page. 

Due March 21, by email.