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Research Tools: Home

Selecting a Research Topic

What to look for in a topic ... 

  • Interest. The topic you choose should be something you know about but want to learn more. The topic should allow you to "stretch"—it should challenge you in some way you have not been challenged academically before.
  • Significance. The topic or question should be important to the field and potentially add to the body of knowledge of the field of study. 
  • Scope. The topic or question should be narrow enough in scope to allow for an in-depth, original study and should lend itself to the development of a professional-quality final product. Finally, you should be able to address the topic or question fully in the agreed-upon time period.
  • Resources. There should be enough information available to research the topic. Your project should utilize some degree of primary sources and analysis, thus your project cannot depend only on secondary sources.

Adapted from: Texas Standards Performance Project

How to come up with a topic ... 

  • Brainstorm: Use a mind map to generate all the ideas you can about a topic. You can continue to add to your mind map as you learn more about your topic.
  • Share: Discuss your topic ideas with classmates, friends, family, teachers or teacher librarians.
  • Browse: Browse encyclopedias, reference area and print books. 
  • Understand expectations: Be clear on what is expected of you for your task. Read your task carefully and look for key words.
  • Make it interesting: Select a topic that interests you. The easiest topics to work with are ones that make you ponder the answer and keep you motivated to learn more.
  • Tolerate uncertainty: Tolerate some uncertainty at this early stage of your research; you will not have all the answers now, but work with what you have. Pick a topic and move forward with your research. You can always make changes later and change your question.

Adapted from University of Victoria - Libraries: 

  • Formulate a question: Try formulating a research question by completing the following in one sentence: "I want information on..."

Understanding Your Topic

The best way to understand your topic is to place an entire topic on one sheet of paper. Use a Concept Map or Mind Map (this is not a brain storm map) this shows the connections between sub-topics in your topic. See the diagram below:


  • Images
  • Arrows
  • Keywords
  • Colours
  • Line thickness 
  • Positioning / Location 

Simple Example: 


Mind Map video here.

Breaking Down Your Question

1. Command Terms - What is your question asking you to do

Glossary of Terms (taken from the Glossary here)

  • Account : Account for: state reasons for, report on. Give an account of: narrate a series of events or transactions
  • Analyse: Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications
  • Apply: Use, utilise, employ in a particular situation
  • Appreciate: Make a judgement about the value of
  • Assess: Make a judgement of value, quality, outcomes, results or size
  • Calculate :Ascertain/determine from given facts, figures or information
  • Clarify: Make clear or plain
  • Classify: Arrange or include in classes/categories
  • Compare: Show how things are similar or different
  • Construct: Make; build; put together items or arguments
  • Contrast: Show how things are different or opposite
  • Critically (analyse/evaluate): Add a degree or level of accuracy depth, knowledge and understanding, logic, questioning, reflection and quality to (analyse/evaluate)
  • Deduce: Draw conclusions
  • Define: State meaning and identify essential qualities
  • Demonstrate: Show by example
  • Describe: Provide characteristics and features
  • Discuss: Identify issues and provide points for and/or against
  • Distinguish: Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between
  • Evaluate: Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of
  • Examine: Inquire into
  • Explain: Relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how
  • Explore: Adopt a questioning approach and consider a variety of different viewpoints. Where possible reconcile opposing views by presenting a final line of argument.
  • Extract: Choose relevant and/or appropriate details
  • Extrapolate: Infer from what is known
  • Identify: Recognise and name
  • Interpret: Draw meaning from
  • Investigate: Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about
  • Justify: Support an argument or conclusion
  • Outline: Sketch in general terms; indicate the main features of
  • Predict: Suggest what may happen based on available information
  • Propose: Put forward (for example a point of view, idea, argument, suggestion) for consideration or action
  • Recall: Present remembered ideas, facts or experiences
  • Recommend: Provide reasons in favour
  • Recount: Retell a series of events
  • Summarise: Express, concisely, the relevant details
  • Synthesise: Putting together various elements to make a whole
  • To what extent: Evokes a similar response to questions containing 'How far...'. This type of question calls for a thorough assessment of the evidence in presenting your argument. Explore alternative explanations where they exist.
  • Further command term information here and here

2. What is the scope of the question?

  • Time frame
  • Topic area
  • Other limitations

3. What form are you required to respond in?

  • Essay
  • Speech
  • Report
  • Etc.

Excellent Research Help from the State Library