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PACE: Developing Your Topic 
Developing Your Topic

Once you have chosen the topic that you are going to write about, it's time to develop the topic before you actually begin researching.

Since research is a process of questioning and finding answers, write the topic of your research as a question. This will make it easier to tell if your paper accomplishes what you set out to do. Research doesn't mean you will automatically find the answer this question all spelled out for you, but it will help you reach on your own conclusion about what you think the answer should be.

Contrary to popular belief, research is not just finding information that supports the views and ideas you already have about your topic, even though it may be possible to find enough information to do so. When you research, it is very important to consider multiple viewpoints and different answers than you expected to find. Good research will help you decide which of the answers you've found are correct, and then help you to justify them.

For example:
       Did "No Child Left Behind" affect Physical Education in America's Schools?
             What skills do leaders have?
                   What are the effects of community policing in urban areas?
                         How can nursing homes better care for elderly residents?

Now that you have the question that you will be researching, we need to pick out the important concepts (or keywords).

Not everyone who writes about a topic is going to use exactly the same words to describe it, so we need to try to think up as many synonyms and related words for our keywords as possible.

Using the last sample question from above:

How can nursing homes better care for elderly residents ?

nursing homes     care     elderly residents
nursing home     treatment     elderly
long-term care facility     medical care     older people
hospitals     quality of life     aged
seniors housing well-being     nursing home patients

These are the terms that we are going to use in our searches.

Doing multiple searches using different combinations of these terms will bring up different results. For example, searching for nursing home, medical care, and aged will get different results than a search for long-term care facility, well-being, and elderly residents.

Adding more terms to a search will narrow your results and make them more specific, while using fewer terms will broaden your results.

Will you find enough information about your topic?

It may be the case that, after finding a topic of interest, you discover it is very difficult to locate a sufficient amount of information to support your research paper. In this case you will probably need to either a) broaden the scope of your topic or b) select another topic. Before you do either of these, consider the following:
  • Who cares about it? Think about who would write and read about your topic.
        For example: Is this topic of interest to people in biology, religion, music, or another
        discipline? From the Find Articles, Images, Audio and more link on the library home page
        click on the appropriate subject and search in databases available for that subject.
  • Look at the terminology. When you find a relevant article, be sure and look at the
        complete record, not just the citation. Check the terminology in the Subject field.
        Terminology used by the database may differ from your search terms and be exactly
        what you need to locate information. For example, if you are searching for information
        on the death penalty, you may want to use capital punishment as your search term.
  • Is it new? If your topic is of very recent interest realize that there will be a limited
        amount of information available, particularly information of a scholarly, academic nature.
        Scholarly publications generally take longer to come to press than popular. If your topic
        is a “hot topic” that has been prevalent in the news in recent years check the
        CQ Researcher, available in the current periodicals shelves. Ask a librarian where it is
        located, or check it out online when you are on campus. The topics featured in here can     provide excellent starting points.
  • There’s not a magic bullet! Don’t expect to find an article addressing your topic exactly
        as you are writing. Research entails numerous searches about the varying aspects of
        your topic. Expect to do multiple searches in several databases.
  • Ask for help. If you are unsuccessful in locating information about your topic, speak
        with a librarian or your professor, they may have additional suggestions for you
        to pursue.

    PACE Resources main page

    Go back to Choosing your topic

    Move on to Gathering Background Information

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    Millikin University - Decatur, IL
    Millikin University - Decatur, IL