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RHET:1030/1040/1060: Rhetoric (Writing & Reading, Speaking & Reading)

Lesson - Picking a Topic is Research

Picking your topic is research by North Carolina State University Libraries

Remember to contact a librarian if you need help getting started with your research.

Or, get inspired by reviewing the materials available on The Perch subject guide, first. 

Working with Your Topic

Sometimes it is hard to pick a topic for your research, but there are ways to make it easier!

The Perch logo - black bird in black circlesVisit The Perch to browse the latest news and magazines, talking about today's issues. Stopping by to peruse the publications in person, or opting to give them the once over online, you can let your curiosity guide you as one article or another makes you pause and ponder. Is anything that you're reading making you think or making you emote? That may be a great place to start your exploration of a topic for your research project!

  • Brainstorm back and forth with a friend. Think of at least five possibilities each that fit the assignment parameters.Make it fun, but set a deadline for picking something. 
  • Pick a topic that interests you. You'll be spending time reading and thinking about this topic for a while, so being genuinely curious about your topic will help lead to a successful project.
  • Match your topic to the scope of the assignment. For example, "underage drinking" may be too large of a topic for a 2-page paper. You can narrow your topic by adding other components, such as a time period or location. "Underage drinking on college campuses" or "depression and underage drinking" are more specific.
  • Ask a question. What questions exist that you genuinely want an answer to? This may not be necessary every time, but asking a question can be a helpful way to frame your research. "Has underage drinking increased in the past twenty years?" and "How does the media represent underage drinking?" are two very different approaches to the same general topic.
  • Make sure your topic fits the assignment requirements. Reread the assignment and if you're not sure, check with your instructor.

Creating a concept map can help you begin to think about your topic and create a search strategy. As you begin a project, your topic may evolve, but you need to identify what you know about it and what questions you have. Concept maps include the key concepts associated with your topic, alternative terminology for those concepts, and the relationships between the various aspects of your topic.

To create a concept map:

  1. Write down your topic or question.
  2. Circle the main concepts.
  3. For each concept, list keywords, such as synonyms, examples, and other ways of describing the concept.

Feeling stuck? Here are some questions to get you going:

  • Are there other ways to describe the concept?
  • What is the opposite of the word or concept?
  • Is there a genre/overarching concept?
  • Can you think of a more specific example?
  • Can you think of who cares about the topic? Those names or organizations can be used as search terms, too!

Write down any questions you come up with during the process. Those questions may help develop a more precise topic, or determine different avenues of inquiry around the topic. 

By doing this activity, you have just created a whole list of keywords that can now be used to do a much richer and more varied search of the research databases. This means better results to work with! Good job, you!

Successful searches for information require you to be creative and flexible. The words you use to describe your topic may be different than the words used by the person who created the information you need to find. Challenge yourself (and give yourself enough time) to search, read, discover new terms, and then search again. Research is an iterative process!