Library Research: A Step-By-Step Guide

Use this guide to learn more about the research process

Selecting a topic

How do I choose a topic?

First, read your assignment to understand the requirements and/or limitations of your topic choices.

Then choose a topic that interests you:
  • have you recently come across a video, news report, interview or photograph that made you angry, excited, upset, hopeful or stirred your curiosity? 
  • do you have a strong opinion about a current social or political issue, an injustice, a new cultural or technological phenomenon?
  • do you or a family member or a friend have a problem or a unique experience that you would like to dig deeper to understand?
  • what perplexes, fascinates, worries or gives you hope about the future?
  • what events or trends or characters from history are most unfamiliar to you?
  • is there a topic from your textbook or class lecture that you want to further explore?

Is your topic....
  • Debatable? (are there likely other points of views that exist?)

  • Plausible? (there is likely valid evidence to support it)

  • Consequential? (the outcome or conversation about this topic is worthwhile or significant)

Browsing for topic ideas

In the box below, you can find information about how to browse some databases. Looking through larger, general topics that these databases list out can often help you get ideas of what kind of information exists and perhaps help you to find something of interest to pick.

Browsing topics in the databases

Social Science Resources

Browse through the tabs above to explore topic ideas in the social sciences.

Explore Ideas with Gale eBooks

Browse the academic encyclopedia collection Gale eBooks for good topic ideas

Strategy 1: 

Type in a broad idea, such as masculinity, homelessness, mental illness, or criminal justice and browse the list of titles and topics returned.

  • Select Subjects from the filters on the right and browse the list of related and subtopics. 
  • Open articles to explore possible ideas for your research project.
    • Notice the encyclopedia title the article is in. That may give you an indication of its focus.
    • Remember to keep a Social Science focus.

(Click on images below to enlarge)GVRL - explore subtopics

Strategy 2:

Type in a more focused search and browse the results for ideas.

  • Example: incarceration AND families OR children.

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GVRL-incarceration AND families OR children


Strategy 3:

Click on Gale eBooks at the top of the database page. This takes you to the encyclopedia level. Limit to Social Science on the left and then browse titles and ideas there.

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Social Sciences Subject Browse in GVRL

Searching CQ Researcher

  • In CQ Researcher, look for the option to "Browse reports by topic" on the menu at the top of the page

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CQ Research: Browse by Topic Area

Searching Opposing Viewpoints

Search Tips

  • In Opposing Viewpoints, you have the option to look at larger, broad topics. Instead of searching the large search box at top, scroll down to see the list of issues, or topics. 

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screenshot of database page showing how to choose a broad topic to be shown a list of related narrow topics

Additional Current Issues Databases 

Holman Library logo

Holman Library One Search 

Use One Search to explore topic ideas and issues. This can be a great way to take a starting interest and find a focus. 

Type in a search term and browse the results to get a sense of some of the issues addressed on your starting concept. 

  • Peruse titles in the results list for ideas
  • Use Subject limiters on the left to find subtopics

Searching Debate-Focused Websites

  • You can easily browse through larger topics on the website

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screenshot of the ProCon website showing a list of topics, or issues

  • This debate database, Debateabase, is a good way to look for controversial topics in today's world. Use the link below to access the website and see a list of topics

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image of an article from the database mentioned

Searching Online

  • Explore the resources below for some great current issues in the social sciences. This is just a sampling of sources.
  • You'll find a Google Search box at the bottom of the list if you'd like to explore more widely.
Google Web Search

Concept Mapping

Concept Mapping is a great way to take an initial interest and think it through to a  more focused research topic.