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Start with Background Reading!
First, you need to do background reading. Doing so at the beginning of your research helps you understand your topic right from the start. You will be able to put your topic in context and create research questions that drive your search for information. In addition, when you continue researching you will know if what you find is relevant and useful.
You need to begin understanding your topic early in order to know:
- What information you need to find
- Whether or not what you are finding is relevant
- What search terms will lead to successful searches
- What information is reliable
You do not have to read a lot of books to get this valuable background information. In addition to reference books that you'll find in the library catalog, you can use articles and book chapters from the library's online databases of articles and reference e-books. Listed to below are selected background resources.
List of Background Reading Sources
- Reference books; look at the table of contents and index for ideas
- General encyclopedias such as World Book Encyclopedia (in the Library) to locate a broad topic
- General e-books such as Encyclopedia Britannica to locate a broad topic
- Gale Virtual Reference Library for subject encyclopedias and reference books online
- Subject (specialized) encyclopedias from the Library - Reference Books area - Use the catalog to locate
- Subject Guides from the Rio Hondo College Library Website
- Hot topics from the Rio Hondo College Library Subject Guides page
- Lists of Topics from the Rio Hondo College Website
How to Narrow a Topic - Prezi Presentation
Begin Topic Development
Develop a general or broad topic from your background reading
From your general topic and readings you can begin to develop a refined topic that will developed into a thesis statement or research question.
If your topic is too broad begin to narrow/refine it by adding an aspect of the topic, a time period, limit it to a location/geography, population, etc.
Below is an example of narrowing the topic of Prisons:
|aspects of the topic
law and legislation
moral and ethical aspects
2000-2010 (a range of years)
United States (or another country)
Teens or Juveniles
Arrive at a researchable thesis or research question
Given your assigned question, how can you arrive at a researchable thesis statement that you can discuss in a well-argued paper?
- What is the minimum number of pages expected for the assignment?
- Is your thesis statement too broad? Too narrow?
Identify Keywords and Concepts
Keywords and concepts describe the main idea(s) of your topic and enable you to focus your research.
- Based on your readings, course syllabus, assigned texts, jot down the terms that you identify as the keywords and main concepts.
- Use background information from reference sources such as the Gale Virtual Reference Library, Reference books, and subject (specialized) encyclopedias to find additional keywords and synonyms. See the example below.
- Group the keywords by concept.
- Identify synonyms of your keywords (e.g., synonyms for "teenagers" are adolescents, youths, and children).
Topic: Does Education reduce recidivism in Prisons?