The first step is understanding your assignment. Read it thoroughly and note any specific requirements:
Ask your instructor about anything you don't understand.
Sometimes the hardest part of starting your research is choosing a topic, especially if the topic has not been assigned.
If possible, choose a topic that:
Check with your course instructor for suggestions, or consider relevant topics from other classes that have interested you.
Browse the Internet. Start with broad issues or topics (e.g., transportation) and see what interesting subtopics might exist (e.g., car-sharing, high-speed rail, bicycle lanes). Note the URLs of useful sites. See Find Websites.
Consult a related subject encyclopedia for ideas and concepts. See Find Background Information.
Browse general article databases such as Academic Search Complete. Scan the summaries of articles, and see related subject terms for possible keywords. See Find Articles.
Just starting a paper or project? Consider using an encyclopedia, dictionary, or handbook to help you:
Background information sources can be general or subject-specific, and often provide suggestions for further reading.
Subject-specific encyclopedias contain entries focusing on one field of study.
General encyclopedias provide overviews on a wide variety of topics.
Use an encyclopedia
Subject-specific dictionaries contain entries focusing on one field of study.
General dictionaries provide broad definitions on a wide variety of topics.
Use a dictionary
Handbooks are collections of information that provide quick answers particular to a specific field of study.
Use a handbook:
Wikipedia is a popular online encyclopedia, but it is not always considered an appropriate source for academic assignments.
Wikipedia is, however, an acceptable source to use as a starting point and for background information.
References and links provided at the end of each Wikipedia entry can lead you to credible and scholarly information elsewhere. Just be sure to evaluate the new site before using the information.
You may start with a very broad topic, for example, marketing. Soon, however, you would find there is way too much information on this subject.
To make the topic more manageable, think of some aspect of the general subject of marketing that interests you, for example:
Let's say that you are interested in marketing to children ...
You could further narrow that topic by choosing a specific sub-topic:
Narrow by ...
a specific item
|e.g. marketing fast food|
|e.g. marketing in Canada|
a specific medium
|e.g. marketing on television|
|e.g. marketing to boys vs. girls|
Once you have narrowed your topic, it can be useful to write out your topic as a question.
Each time you find a new source of information, ask yourself: "Does this help me answer my question?"
Online Tutorial: Creating a Thesis Statement
What is the main point you want to make about your topic, in one or two sentences?
For the topic of marketing to children, start by phrasing your topic as a research question:
How and why do fast food restaurants market their food to children?
Your research question might then lead to a thesis statement (or research statement) such as:
It is unethical for fast food restaurants to use incentives such as toys and persuasive cartoon characters to encourage children to eat unhealthy food.
Your research question or thesis statement will help you decide on a direction for your research.
As you progress through the process of finding information, you may find your question or thesis statement needs to be revised to accommodate new information or a different angle on your topic.
Three questions to ask about your thesis statement:
From Hult, C. A. (2003). The new century handbook. Toronto,ON: Longman. p. 50.