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Kaua'i Community College Library

Information Literacy Tutorial: Preparing for Research

Preparing for Research

Choosing a topic

What are you curious about?

When working on a research project, one of two things probably happened:

  1. You were assigned a topic
  2. You need to pick a topic

If you were assigned a topic, that's great!  You've got a good start, already.  Is there anything about that topic that makes you curious?  Try to write down a few things about that topic that you might be curious about.  For example, if your topic is "Plastic pollution in the ocean", what are some things about that idea that create some curiosity?  Hmm, "Where does it come from?" "How much is there?" "Is it worse in Hawai'i than in other places?"  Try things like that.  Questions that need to be answered for you to satisfy your curiosity.

If you weren't assigned a topic for your research project, that's great, too!  Try to choose a topic that makes you curious.  This could be something that you are familiar with that you want to know more about.  Or... you can take the opposite method and choose something that you know very little about, but have always wanted to.  This is a great opportunity to find out about something totally new. 

Also... it is completely okay if you can't think of anything that you'd like to research.  This is not a problem.  There are many ways to find a topic.  Some ideas:

  • Come into the library and browse through the last few issues of The Garden Island newspaper.  There are always fascinating things happening on Kaua'i that you could write a research project about.
  • Or, browse through the magazines at the library.  The library has magazines on many different topics... surfing, poetry, politics, culture.  The library has magazines on all kinds of topics.  There are tons of topics to use for an interesting research project.
  • Or, the library has databases that can suggest topics for research:
    • CQ Researcher is a weekly journal that has been focusing on current, controversial topics since 1923. Each single-themed report is researched and written by a seasoned journalist. It is known for its in-depth, unbiased coverage of health, social trends, criminal justice, international affairs, education, the environment, technology and the economy. It includes a broad overview of the issue, the historical background, and opposing viewpoints of experts on the subject. 
    • Opposing Viewpoints contains 19,000+ Pro/Con arguments and 13,000+ Topic Overviews
    • Credo Reference provides access to > 600 reference books, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauri, and quotations, as well as 200,000+ images.

Popular vs. Scholarly

Your instructor might suggest that you use scholarly articles in your project.  Watch this short video for an introduction.

This may not seem 100% important right now, but watch the video and consider it for when it's time to do your in-depth research on your topic.

Make the video full-screen and turn on sound.

Narrowing your topic by creating a research question

Background research vs in-depth research

Background research (aka, pre-research):

Before diving into the waters of the heavy specific ideas of your topic, it's a good idea to dip your toes into the water of research to get a feel for your topic.  This is called pre-research.  Pre-research is the stuff you do to get ready for doing in-depth research on any topic.

  • When you're first getting started on researching anything, it's a good idea to get a general understanding of it first before diving into in-depth information about it.
  • Find out some background or general information about your subject first by using:
  • You probably won't be using this information in your research project.  Pre-research is just for you, so you can get comfortable with the basic ideas of the topic.  This is a good idea for life, in general, when learning about a new thing.  To use some other metaphors, we learn to walk before we run or we learn to surf little waves before we tackle the gnarlier stuff.
  • Try to find the six things about your topic: 
  1. who
  2. what
  3. when
  4. where
  5. why
  6. how
  • Develop some questions about your topic. 
    • While you were doing pre-research, what did you find that made you curious about your topic? 
    • Is there anything that you might want to find out more about? 
    • (Tip:  If your topic isn't making you curious to find out more, try choosing a topic that does.)
  • Benefits of background research:
    • It helps you understand the basics of an idea 
    • You'll get more familiar with the words used when talking about this topic.  This is important because you'll need those words to search for information about your topic.  Also, learning the words or terminology about a topic is a good way to get more familiar with a topic.
    • Hopefully, it will inspire you to be curious about the topic that you can use to find a more specific aspect of the topic.
    • It identifies unresolved issues, controversies, and places where knowledge is incomplete.  This might be where you can do some research and add to the world of knowledge about this topic.  Think about yourself as an important member of the community of this topic.  Your research is going to be adding to what we can find out about a topic.
  • ‚ÄčTry to remember that the focus of your research topic can shift and try not to stress out about that.  It's okay.  Stay loose in the early stages of your research project.  You might end up doing research on something more interesting than you originally considered.  
Watch this short video:


In-depth research

We'll cover in-depth research in the next lesson.  For now, let's learn about identifying keywords that you can use for searching.

Identifying Keywords

  • Pick out the words from your topic sentence/question that represent the main ideas
  • Build a list of keywords from these main ideas that describe your topic
  • Include synonyms

This short video from Suffolk Community College describes the process.