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The UAS Ketchikan Campus Library is open to students and the public 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–Friday. Masks are required on campus and in the library at all times, regardless of vaccination status. Call 907-228-4567 if you have questions.

Determining the Topic of Your Research Paper

Getting Started

Discuss the topic. Give yourself plenty of time to think about your topic. Brainstorm with your colleagues, friends and family; explore concepts and ideas, ask questions. Ask yourself: What do I want to find out, prove, compare? Be sure to choose a topic that interests you or that you have a personal connection with and is within the bounds of your assignment. You’ll enjoy the research process a lot more if you’re interested in your topic! If you really don’t have any ideas for a topic, browse newspapers or journals for something of interest. Scan the New Book shelf at the Campus Library for other ideas.


Avoid a topic that’s too broad – you’ll be overwhelmed with information, but an easy solution is to:

Narrow your search terms

By Time: Current or historical

By Geography: Can you narrow your topic in relation to a particular place, political situations, environmental influences, a city, state, or country issue, urban or rural?

By Players: Who is involved? What groups or individuals are most influenced or affected? Are they male or female? Middle school or college students? Young or old?

Avoid a topic that’s too narrow. If you don’t get enough information in your searches, you’ll need to

Broaden your idea. If you are too specific, you may not find enough material, or you’ll need to explore more broadly to find information on a more specific aspect of the subject. If you’re not finding any books or articles by your search terms, it may just be that you’re not using appropriate search

Browse through tables of contents or bibliographies from books providing background information on a large topic in which you are interested.

Getting Knowledgeable

Read background material on the subject and sketch briefly the history and nature of the subject.

Determine how the subject is related to other subjects.

Find the unique terminology and definitions of the subject, and the names of authorities.

Identify pro-con issues within the subject. (Points of View Reference Center is a great database to check out for many issues, especially social issues.)

An encyclopedia is an excellent place to gain all of the above knowledge. Consider both paper encyclopedias and Wikipedia! Once you’ve done that part of your research, you’re ready to

Select an issue for research.

Now it’s time to do a preliminary search in the library catalog and search a couple of article databases. Identify synonyms. What are alternative words for your main idea? Know the vocabulary that describes your topic. Try out the keywords you’ve come up with and refine them as necessary. Ask a librarian if you get stuck! Try to choose one or two sources in each of the following formats: books and periodicals off the shelf, articles from online databases, electronic books, and other online sources. Once you conduct some preliminary research, you’ll get a better handle on your subject and be able to develop a focus or point of view.

Getting Assistance

Start the Library Research Process early!

There are always unexpected problems.

There may be competition with other students for materials.

Not everything is condensed and summarized for you.

Everything you need, or want, may not be in the library

Borrowing from another library via interlibrary loan may take 2-6 weeks.

Maybe the information you want doesn’t exist!

Talk to your instructor. Be sure that you understand the assignment including expectations and parameters.

Consult Reference books. They provide an overview of a topic, clarify concepts, relate important issues and identify prominent researchers in a discipline. They are an excellent source for additional materials and are available both in libraries and in e-book format.

Contact the Ketchikan Campus Library for assistance at any stage of your research process. We're here to help you!

Created September 2016


Content maintained by Ketchikan Campus Library.