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How do I choose a research topic? Descriptive Transcript

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Do you need to pick a topic for your research paper? This video will offer some tips on how to choose a topic. How do I choose a research topic? Title Slide
First review your assignment. How many pages are required? What types of sources do you need? How many sources do you need? Then pick a topic that interests you and is relevant to your course. What would you like to learn more about? If you're looking for sources for research topic ideas, you can try talking to your instructor, a librarian, or subject experts. Your class readings can be a source of ideas as well. Think carefully about the types of sources required. If you are required to find peer reviewed sources, you might need to avoid topics that are too recent or too local. Otherwise, you might not be able to find enough information to complete your assignment. Scholarly research takes time to get published and won't be available for very recent topics.  
To find background information about your topic. Begin at the library. Homepage Library.Northeastern.edu. Enter your search terms into Scholar OneSearch to search for a variety of library resources. Here, we'll try a sample search for infection. You will see results from many different types of sources, including books, journals and newspapers. To the left of your results under filter my Results, Select Reference Entries to limit to more general overviews of your topic. This exploration can help you identify a more specific aspect of the topic to focus on. Once you've done some background research and have a basic topic in mind, evaluate your results. Are you getting too many? Our initial search for infection in Scholar OneSearch has almost million results and will need to be more focused. Screen capture demonstrates a search for reference material in Scholar OneSearch.
You can focus your topic with the four W's who, what, when and where.  
Here's an example of taking our original infections topic and making it narrower using the four Ws. For why we are focused on nurses. For what? Hand sanitizers. For where Massachusetts. For when? The past five years.
  • Who: Nurses
  • What: Hand Sanitizers
  • Where: Massachusetts
  • When: Last five years
The four Ws are an exercise to get you thinking about different ways to focus on your topic. There's no need to use all four Ws in your final topic, that could limit your search too much. In this example, we focused on nurses and hand sanitizer use in Massachusetts and didn't retrieve any results. We've narrowed our topic too much. Snapshot of a search in Scholar OneSearch for nurses AND "hand sanitizer" AND Massachusetts that returns no records.
To find enough results will need to make our topic a bit broader for who we might expand from nurses to health care personnel. For what we can broaden it from hand sanitizer to hand washing or hand sanitizer. For where you can expand from Massachusetts to the United States.
  • Who: nurses - Health care personnel
  • What: Hand sanitizers -handwashing or hand sanitizer
  • Where: Massachusetts -United States
You might need to adjust your topic several times as you test it out in the library databases. That's okay. It's a normal part of the research process. Be flexible and let the literature you find guide you in picking your topic. There might not be enough information about your original idea, so continue to adjust your topic until you find one that has enough information available that you will be able to cover within the guidelines of your assignment.  
Need help? Ask a librarian at library.northeastern.edu/ask Closing Slide: Ask a Librarian library.northeastern.edu/ask