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How to Write a Research Paper: Defining Your Topic

General steps to create a research paper.

Defining a Topic

Defining your topic is a multi-part process.

  • First, choose your topic. If a specific topic is not assigned to you, you might get ideas for a topic from your course text, class notes, or class discussions, or by exploring some of the library's databases.
  • Remain flexible.  You may wish to change or alter your research topic depending on what you uncover in your research.  For instance, if you find too little information on a topic, you may wish to broaden your topic.  If you find too much information on a topic, you may wish to narrow your topic.  Or, if you find information you were not expecting, you may even want to alter your topic entirely. 
  • If you do not know very much about your topic, find background information or an overview of the subject matter, then you can narrow it down as needed. Keep in mind that depending on your subject matter, you might need to broaden or refine your topic a bit.
  • For Current, Controversial topics, look at these resources:
    • Print Encyclopedias There are general ones that can be found in the library such as Encyclopedia Americana that cover a broad subject range or more subject-specific ones such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
    • Online Encyclopedias The library also subscribes to a number of online encyclopedia databases such as Gale Virtual Reference Library, and Sage eReference  These databases, contain a wealth of background information on a wide variety of topics and can be easily searched through names, topics, and keywords. 
    • Issues & Controversies and CQ Researcher These two databases contain information on current social issues and hot topics through multiple points of view.  They provide excellent background on these topics

Remote Access to the Databases

The databases listed in this Research Guide are available only to Truckee Meadows Community College students, faculty and staff.  You will need your TMCC credentials (Username and Password) to access them off-campus.

  • Use these sources to identify keywords, synonyms, and related concepts. You can use these terms to begin searching in the library catalog for books, in databases for articles, and even Google or another search engine to find information on the Web.

--Modified from Morton College Library's Guide to Writing a Research Paper