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Topic Ideas

Before selecting a topic to research, be sure to understand the the assignment.  Check with your instructor about specific guidelines.

  • Do you need to include specific types of sources (e.g. scholarly, books, popular press, etc)?
  • When is the assignment due?  How much time do you have for research?  The earlier you start your project the better.
  • Is the currency of the information important?  For example, do you need to only use information from the last five years?  Check with your instructor.  This is often one of the requirements of the assignment.

Databases to Help You Select a Topic

Picking a Topic is Research

Picking a Topic is Research courtesy of University of Houston Libraries

Searching With Keywords

Keywords are words or short phrases that represent the main ideas in your research question.

In Google, you can search in full sentences.  Most library databases do not understand full sentences or spelling mistakes.  Use keywords to pull up the most relevant results.  

Brainstorming Keywords

Different words can describe the same concept and you can never be sure which keywords will pull up the type of information you are looking for.

Start with your research question to pull out the main concepts.


Keyword Searching Tools

Advanced Searching: Use Boolean

Using Boolean logic means using command to connect your search words.  It helps you find better information and avoud the irrelevant.  The Boolean connectors are And, Or, and Not.

Example:   What is the impact of college binge drinking on grades?

Identify the keywords in your question.  For this example College, binge drinking, and grades.  

And, connects these concepts so you get results that have both search terms. You are telling the search engine to look for items that contain all of your search terms.  This will narrow your search so you will retrieve fewer results. 

For example, College AND "Binge drinking" AND Grades will give you articles represented in the shaded area.  With 

Or connects these concepts so you get results that have at least one (or more) of your search terms.  You are telling the search engine to look for any of these search terms.  Use it with synonyms to broaden your search.  You will retrieve a greater number of results.

For example College OR University will give you results that contain either term represented in all the shaded areas.

Combine these search strategies for an even more powerful search.  Use parentheses to separate groups of search words.  

For example, you may want to combine the following keywords into one search: College, University, "Binge drinking", alcohol, grades, "academic achievement"

(College OR University) AND ("Binge drinking" OR alcohol) AND (grades OR "academic achievement")


Not will eliminate terms from a search.  If you want to search for articles about alcohol but not other drugs, you could search for (College OR University) AND ("Binge drinking" OR alcohol) AND (grades OR "academic achievement") NOT drugs