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Searching the Literature

Select a Topic

About selecting a topic

You can follow these steps when you select your topic, and talk with your professor or a librarian if you have questions.

Find a topic that is interesting to you

Try to choose a topic that is interesting to you. It will make your literature search easier and more interesting.

For example, if you are in a course about leadership development, a topic about sports might not seem like an obvious option. But, if you're interested in sports, you may be able to conduct a literature search on leadership development of college athletes.

Talk with your professor for ideas about how to connect your topic to your interests.

Try Googling your topic...yes, seriously

A quick search in Google or Google Scholar can help you make sure you will be able to find research that has already been done on your topic. When you search Google or Google Scholar, you can:

  • get an idea of what's available related to your topic
  • build background knowledge on your topic
  • think about keywords or phrases to use when you move into the Library's databases

Make sure your topic isn't too broad or too narrow

If you choose a topic that is too broad, it may be difficult to research.

An example of a topic that might be too broad: Why parents should read to their children

If your topic is too narrow, it may be challenging to find any resources in your literature search.

An example of a topic that may be too narrow: Parents of children under the age of two increase literacy proficiency by reading two books daily to their children

Finding somewhere in the middle of these two examples will make the literature search easier.

An example of a good topic: Parents who read aloud to their pre-kindergarten children build their emerging literacy skills

Match your topic to your assignment

What is your assignment? Are you being asked to write a literature review, build an annotated bibliography, or is this literature search part of a larger research project? Whatever the end product of the literature search, if you keep your assignment requirements in mind, this will help you select an appropriate topic.

Other things to consider before starting your search are:

  • How long does my end product or paper need to be?
  • What should the age of published resources be? (e.g., Some instructors require resources be published within the last 10 years.)
  • How many resources do you need? (e.g., Some assignments may require 5 peer-reviewed sources, and 5 newspaper or online resources)
  • What type of publications/resources should you have? (e.g., peer-reviewed, scholarly, popular, grey literature, etc.)
  • Should you only be looking at original research? (Original research may also be called empirical studies.)

Get help

You may want to ask a librarian for help as you select a topic. We are here to support students through all stages of your research.

Learn more