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This guide contains resources specific to the needs of TRIO students enrolled in the Steps to Success TRIO curriculum.

Step 1: Picking 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.

Step 2: Start with the main keywords!

When searching library databases and search tools, keywords are key. 

Before you begin your search it is good practice to develop a handful of keywords or phrases. Use the following strategies to help. 

  • Write a sentence describing your topic or question to your friends. Circle or highlight the main words -- these are keywords. 
  • Now do the same thing, but describe your topic or question to your professor. Circle or highlight the main words. 
  • Who cares about your topic? Who cares enough to write about your topic? You might add the names of these people or groups. 
  • Can you come up with synonyms for any of the words you listed thus far? 
  • Are their words that broaden or narrow the scope of your existing words? 
  • Can you think of different words or phrases that describe the who, what, when, where, and why of your topic or question? 
  • Note that you will continue to develop keywords as you search. This is in part because you will encounter new academic or specialized terms and phrases that describe your topic, and your topic might develop, narrowing or broadening, as you develop a deeper background understanding. Many people will keep a running list of keywords as they search. 
  • PRO TIP: As you search library tools and databases, look for any 'Subject Terms' listed as describing resources you discover. You will often find these in the article descriptions. These are words and phrases that academics and librarians develop to describe research topics and can make fantastic keyword searches. 
PRO TIP: If you need to find scholarly (academic, peer-review) journal articles use the filters! Most library search tools and databases will have a filter that allows you to limit your results to those items considered to be scholarly. NOTE: Search tools and databases may differ and could use any of the following terms: scholarly articles, academic articles, peer-reviewed articles. 

TRY THISSee if you can add anything to the existing keyword list. Is anything missing? If so, add it to the list.

Step 3: Read and Understand the Article

Given all the resources available to you through the University of Iowa Libraries you need to develop strategies for filtering out the irrelevant and finding the stuff that meets your needs. 

You'll also need to develop strategies for reading lengthy academic articles quickly. Scholarly articles tend to have similar structures and sections. Knowing how to skim these sections to determine if something is relevant to your research is a good skill to develop. Follow the steps below

  1. Read the abstract, then the introduction. 
  2. Read the discussion and/or conclusion sections. 
  3. If what you've read is relevant, continue on to read the finer details of the article contained in the introduction,methods, and literature review sections. 
  4. If the article is still relevant, sit down and read through the article again, for comprehension. 
  5. As you read make note of passages that answer your research question or in some way connect to your research topic.