Identify Your Topic
Begin by Identifying a Preliminary Topic
If you haven't picked a topic yet, see Suggestions for Finding a Topic, below.
State your topic idea as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"
Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are alcoholic beverages, health, and college students.
Suggestions for Finding a Topic
Discuss your topic ideas with your class instructor.
Discuss your topic ideas with a reference librarian. It may be wise to set up a research consultation. You can request a personal research consultation using this online form.
Browse likely topics using our Online Encyclopedias guide.
Browse our subject research guides.
Develop Your Topic
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 Cornell Library Catalog and in periodical databases.
If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by using the and operator. e.g, beer and health and college students, for example.
Finding too little information may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. For example, look for information on students, rather than college students. Link synonymous search terms with the or operator, e.g., alcoholic beverages or beer or wine or liquor. Use as asterisk to truncate (i.e., alcohol*) search terms to broaden the search and increase the number of items you find.