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The Research Process

Choose Your Topic

Choose an interesting and relevant research topic using these tips and exercises.

  • Getting started
  • Brainstorming
  • Concept and Mind Mapping

Getting Started With Topics

A good research topic...

  • Fits the assignment requirements
  • Can be supported by research materials available
  • Is interesting to you - it's something you want to learn more about
  • Has a unique angle or explores a 'hot' issue in your field (esp. important for senior/grad level papers)

Can’t think of a topic to research? Get ideas from:

  • Your class textbook(s)
  • Notes from class discussions and lectures
  • Current magazines and newspapers
  • Encyclopedias - online or in print
  • Your instructor or a librarian
  • A 'Hot topic' database such as CQ Researcher 


Once you have selected a general topic, start to brainstorm its different angles and facets by asking research questions.

Download the worksheet at the left for more info on brainstorming.


WHO is the creator, who is the audience or end user? (Could also be a group rather than individual)

WHAT are some specific examples? What does it look like, what style is it?

WHEN was it created and how did it originate? Is it new, or historical?

WHERE is it located? Has it been relocated to several places?

HOW has it influenced others? How does it relate to the larger context/situation?

WHY is this idea important - to other researchers, and to me?

Concept Mapping / Mind Mapping

Concept mapping (or mind mapping) is a way to visually organize a topic in order to identify relevant themes and connections. A concept map can be made using sketching software, a whiteboard or just a pen and scratch paper - whichever you prefer.

Download the worksheet at the left for more info on concept mapping.

For inspiration, many examples of concept maps can be seen on Flickr.