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Module 1: Defining the Topic

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1 Module 1: Defining the Topic
Module Objectives After completing this module, the successful student will be able to Define concepts related to the research topic Generate a list of keywords related to the concepts

2 Selecting a Topic Selecting a topic is often one of the most challenging aspects of the research process. It's important that you select a manageable topic, as well as one for which you can easily locate information to support your thesis. Let's look at a few ways to develop a manageable topic.

3 Broad Topics Natural Disasters
Sometimes it's good to start out with a very broad topic and then narrow it to one that's more specific. For example, let's use the following broad topic Natural Disasters It would be impossible to comprehensively cover this topic in the brief type of paper your English professor has assigned. Sorting through all of the available information on natural disasters would also prove to be a daunting task. There are many ways that you could approach this topic, however.

4 Narrowing your Topic Narrowing involves giving the topic a more specific focus. An example of narrowing the "Natural Disasters" topic would be to focus on a particular type of natural disaster. The following table illustrates this concept: Broad Topic Narrower Topic Natural Disasters earthquakes hurricanes tsunamis tornadoes There are, of course, other ways to narrow a topic. You could narrow by a specific geographical area, such as natural disasters in the United States. You could narrow by a specific disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina. Or you could narrow by adding a related topic.

5 The Research Question Let’s say we've decided to narrow our topic to "Hurricanes." Now we can look at ways of developing the topic into a research question. While the research topic is the general subject of your research paper, the research question is the particular question that your paper will address or answer. The following example illustrates how the broad topic of "Hurricanes" could be turned into a research question by adding another concept to it. "Has global warming caused an increase in the number of hurricanes in the world?" Now we need to develop a list of keywords that can be used to search for information to answer the research question.

6 Keywords A keyword is an important term related to your topic. The tools that you will use to find information on your topic, such as the library catalog, databases and the Internet, all use keywords to provide you with information resources. Often you can pull the keywords from within your research question, as shown below: "Has global warming caused an increase in the number of hurricanes in the world? You will also need to expand your keyword list so if the terms your are using don’t work, you will have some other possible keywords to try. This can be as simple as listing synonyms for the keywords that you've already identified.

7 Expanding Your Keyword List
Has global warming or greenhouse effect climate change caused an increase in the number of hurricanes typhoons weather in the world United States Asia The keyword list will be useful once you begin to search catalogs, databases and web sites for information resources. Each information retrieval system uses a unique set of words to classify information. Use the keywords to locate one or two information resources (books, articles, etc.) Identify the subject headings or thesaurus terms used by the catalog or database Use the subject headings or thesaurus terms to locate more resources on your topic (Often this is as easy as clicking on a hyperlink!) 

8 Print Handouts Continue to Module 2

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