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Choosing a Research Topic

Do you have a research assignment coming up that you need to choose a topic for? This guide will walk you through how to choose a topic for your assignment!

Background Research

Chances are the topic you chose for your research assignment isn't a topic that you know a lot about. That is okay and what makes research exciting! Before you dive into doing your research, especially if you are looking for academic sources in some of the library databases, you are going to want to do some background research on your topic.

Background research helps you learn more about a topic and gets you comfortable with key terms and ideas in your topic. Oftentimes, you will find that if you jump right into the academic sources, the academic sources will make the assumption that you already have some background knowledge about a topic, making the academic sources difficult to understand.

When doing background research, you want to answer six basic questions (5Ws + How) that will form your common knowledge about a subject.

Sticking with our example about the costs of college tuition:

  • Who: "Who is impacted by the costs of college tuition?"
  • What: "What is college tuition?"
  • Where: "Where is college tuition used?"
  • When: "When was did college tuition get so expensive?"
  • How: "How does the cost of college tuition influence the college?"
  • Why: "Why is college tuition so expensive?"

What sources are best for background research?

Reference sources are best for background research. Examples of reference sources include encyclopedias and dictionaries. Reference sources give an overview of an entire topic. They are usually written in a way that is understandable for someone without background knowledge on a topic.

The Library has several databases that are great places to search for background research. Keep in mind that depending on your research topic, some of these databases may be better to use than others. If you have any questions about which database is right for you, please Ask a Librarian!