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Research Skills Tutorial

Choosing Your Topic

When choosing your own topic, begin by considering topics covered in your course and textbooks/readings that fit the assignment. Then do some background research (covered on next page) on one or more of those topics to get a better understanding. This will not only help you narrow your focus, but equip you with the necessary vocabulary (names of people, places and things related to the topic to search scholarly literature.)

Subject vs. Topic

A subject is broad and general, while a topic is a specific issue relating to the subject. For instance, climate change is a subject. "What is the effect of global warming on the salinity of the oceans?" or "What is the effect of ocean salinity on marine life?" is a topic. 

State Your Topic as a Question

Research is a form of problem solving, and the first step in problem solving is always to identify the problem. In other words, what question do you hope to answer with your research?

Ask Questions

Consider the who, what, when, where, why and how to help you develop your topic. 

Suggestions For Finding a Topic

  • Browse the news for current events
  • Browse your textbook for ideas
  • Discuss your topic ideas with your instructor
  • Discuss your topic ideas with a librarian
  • Use a database like Points of View Reference Center or Opposing Viewpoints
  • Try the Gale Topic Finder (linked on this page)

Picking Your Topic Is Research

Video summarizing the research process by NCSU Libraries. 

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