Overwhelmed with too many or irrelevant results? Consider the following questions for refining your topic:
You can also combine multiple questions to further narrow your subject.
When exploring your research focus, consider the following questions for broadening your topic:
The very first step in the research process is choosing a topic that is not too broad or too narrow in scope.
To help you define a good topic you are advised to do one or all of the following:
If you think you have a good topic or are getting close, try applying your topic ideas to the questions listed below.
Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by looking them up in the appropriate background sources or by using them as search terms in the WUSTL Discovery Catalog and in library databases.
Once you have identified and tested your topic, you're ready to take the next step, finding background information.
The steps to your research strategy will depend on how much time you have and the type of project on which you are working. In order to conduct effective research, you need to gather appropriate information for your topic. Consider the following questions to help you determine the best research strategy:
If you have limited time, it is advisable to focus your information gathering on articles from journals, magazines, newspapers and on books which are in the library or on the web.
If you have more time to plan your research, you will be able to incorporate a variety of materials on your topic and to obtain resources from other libraries.
On what type of project are you working?
The depth of research will depend on the nature of your project. You may need to consider the guidelines specified by your professor on the length of paper or presentation.
What type of information do you need?
Your approach to the topic will determine the type of resources you will use. For example, some research may involve collecting facts, while other research may include gathering various opinions on an issue or argument. You may also want to consider whether your topic will be enhanced by including primary resources. The following types of resources may serve as a guide:
Do you need primary sources? Secondary sources? Both?
"You need to consider whether your project requires primary or secondary sources and, if you will use both, whether a particular work is a primary or a secondary source in the context of your work. Primary sources are basic materials with little or no annotation or editorial alteration, such as manuscripts, diaries, letters, interviews, and laboratory reports. Secondary sources derive from primary materials and include analysis, interpretation, and commentary on primary materials."
"Depending on the point of view of your research paper, a given source may be either primary or secondary. A research paper on William James, the nineteenth-century philosopher, would treat R.W.B. Lewis's The Jameses: A Family Narrative as a secondary source, whereas a paper on Lewis, a well-known critic and biographer, would treat the same book as a primary source. Your assignment may require you to emphasize either primary or secondary sources or to use a combination of the two." -- (Slade, Carole. Form and style. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., c1997.)
Primary sources can be tricky. Whether a source is primary depends on how you use it. A primary source is a written text, artifact, or other original creation upon which you focus your analysis and interpretation. For example, an article that analyzes a book, song, or society would be considered a secondary source. However, that article could function as a primary source--if you are analyzing the ideas of the author of that article, then it functions as a primary source. So anything could function as a primary source--just consider how you are using it: if it's the object of your analysis, then it's a primary source.
A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one step removed from the event is often based on primary sources. Examples include: scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.
Tertiary sources are encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks and other reference materials that provide broad overviews of particular topics. Where secondary sources summarize and interpret an event or phenomenon, tertiary sources summarize and interpret other resources. They can be a great place to begin studying unfamiliar topics.