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Step Two in Writing a Research Paper

As we discussed in Step One, picking your topic for your paper falls into three general categories.

  • Specific Topic
  • Broad topic to narrow down
  • No topic assigned

If you were assigned a specific topic to write your research paper about, you are done with Step Two of writing your research paper! Congratulations!! If you fall into the latter two categories, below are some helpful hints to guide your topic choice.

Broad topic to narrow down:

Let’s continue with our example from Step One. If your course was titled “Diseases of the 21st Century”, a possible broad topic assigned might be “Diseases in New England”. It is then up to you to find a smaller topic under the “umbrella topic” to write your paper on.

To begin narrowing down, go to a search engine and type in your broad topic. If we continue with our example and type in “diseases in New England” we get results for topics such as tick-borne illness, malaria, Lyme, and Powassan virus. Now I know nothing about these diseases, so to find out more you can Google search each individual sub topic that you have found.

When evaluating sub-topics for your paper consider the following:

  • How new is the topic? Newer items will likely not have enough academic research completed for you to use on your paper.
  • How comfortable are you with the topic? Do you have enough base knowledge to read academic journals on the information?

Repeat this step as many times as needed to find your top three sub-topics for your paper. Once you have narrowed it down you want to check that there is enough material in academic journals for you to write your paper. This is NOT a time to start research, we are just checking that your topic has substantial evidence to move forward with.

  • Go to your library’s main database page (something like ProQuest or EbscoHost will work fine)
  • Type in some key words from each potential topic
  • Review your results

When reviewing the results you are looking to see how much information is out there on your topic so you don’t have to repeat Step Two later on if your topic has little to no research. Ideally, one topic should stick out as being the most beneficial to write your paper on. If you have more than one topic that seems to have good potential for your paper, simply choose whatever one your heart desires!

No Topic Assigned

As mentioned in our previous post you will want to make sure your topic is not too broad or too specific, and the best way to analyze this is to view different topics you have discussed in your course already. This will give you an idea of potential material to cover in your research paper, as well as some guidelines on how broad or specific to get.

If you are having trouble coming up with a research topic from material already covered in your course try the following prompts:

  • What is one big question I had while in this course?
  • Why did I want to take this course in the first place? Did I learn what I wanted to learn? (If not this paper might be an opportunity for you to do so.)
  • Ask other students what they are writing about.
  • Think about ways the course ties to you personally, and try to come up with an intersection of the two for research. This will help you stay motivated because it applies to you personally, and will help you develop a strong research question. (ex. in a Multiculturalism in Libraries course I did my final project on domestic violence survivors use of the library to tie in my previous advocacy work.)

Once you’ve decided on a few topics that might lend themselves to your paper,  you want to check that there is enough material in academic journals for you to write your paper. This is NOT a time to start research, we are just checking that your topic has substantial evidence to move forward with.

  • Go to your library’s main database page (something like ProQuest or EbscoHost will work fine)
  • Type in some key words from each potential topic
  • Review your results

When reviewing the results you are looking to see how much information is out there on your topic so you don’t have to repeat Step Two later on if your topic has little to no research. Ideally, one topic should stick out as being the most beneficial to write your paper on. If you have more than one topic that seems to have good potential for your paper, simply choose whatever one your heart desires!

 

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graduate school MLIS Research Process Writing Papers

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blissfullybookish View All →

Graduate student in Masters of Library and Information Science programming trying to save the world one book at a time.

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