Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Choosing a Topic: A Guide to Library Research


What are you going to research?

Sometimes choosing a topic is the biggest hurdle in doing research. Your instructor may assign a general or specific topic, or the choice may be up to you. Knowing where to look for ideas will help you find an interesting subject.

Where can you get ideas?

Your interests, the things you have been reading, and conversations you have had in class or with others are often good sources of ideas.

Sources of background information like general encyclopedias, subject-specific encyclopedias or dictionaries, or textbooks can be sources of ideas.

Current periodicals may give you an idea of hot research topics. Look through some recent issues of journals or magazines in the Current Periodicals collection in Perkins Library.
Browsing the shelves in the library is also a good way to get an idea of topics which have intrigued authors. Consult this general browsing guide to find out where books on a general subject are shelved. Since books at Duke are shelved together by topic, once you have identified the call number of one book, you can browse for related books.

What are your information requirements?

When analyzing your assignment, you will also want to consider the type, quantity, and format of information you will need. Answering the following questions may help you organize your research:

What kind of assignment do you have to complete? (e.g., 5 minute oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper)

How much information do you need?

Is currency important?

What types of publications do you want to read? (newspaper articles, books, journal articles, diaries, trade publications, etc.)

What formats do you need? (visual, audio, printed, electronic)

Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?

How much time do you have?

What are the keywords that describe your topic?

Once you have identified your subject, think about questions your research might help you answer. State your topic as a question. Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the key for searching catalogs, indexes, and databases for information about your subject.


How did New Deal programs influence the arts in America?


New Deal United States Depression Art Federal Aid to the Arts

Cramer, Steven. "Part 1: Choosing a Topic." Guide to Library Research. 27 July 2001. Duke Unisversity. 14 Nov 2006 http://www.lib.duke.edu/libguide/choosing.htm.