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RC 1000 Research Guide: Choosing a Topic, Background Research, & Keywords

Choosing a Topic, Background Research, & Keywords

Choosing a topic that meets the expectations of your project and developing it into a manageable research question can be the hardest part of the process. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to a classmate, your professor, a librarian, or a consultant at the University Writing Center to brainstorm ideas
  • Go online to do background research for context on a topic you're interested in or to find an 'angle' of a broader topic to focus on
  • Brainstorm by freewriting on your topic: what do you already know? what do you want to find out?
  • Organize your thoughts by creating a concept map - click here to learn more about concept mapping

Watch this short video for more ideas:

Picking your topic IS research

If you're still stuck on choosing a topic or developing a broad topic into something manageable for your project, get help from a professional! The consultants at the University Writing Center are waiting to assist you with any part of the writing process.


Another important reason to do background research is that you can gain a sense of the vocabulary of your topic. Identifying those important keywords, phrases, concepts, etc. that are specific to your topic will allow you to find the most relevant sources whether you're searching online or in the library. Performing one or two searches likely won't give you everything you need.

Watch this short video for more on keywords. Note: this video is specific to searching in a university library, which this guide goes into detail on on the Library Research Tools page.

Pro-Tip! Wikipedia

An incomplete sphere made of large, white, jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each puzzle piece contains one glyph from a different writing system, with each glyph written in black.


Wikipedia is rarely an acceptable source to cite in a research paper. However, it can be a great source for background information about research topics  and a source for some of the research already done on certain topics.  


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Laura Langberg