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Boatwright Memorial Library

FYS 100 (20): Drugs In America: Basic Research Tools

Topic Analysis Worksheet

Basic Library Tools

Start with Thinking about Your Topic

Getting Started with Your Research

I recommend that you start by asking yourself concrete questions. As you gain a clearer picture of what you want to accomplish you can generate, and then refine, a plan of action.

  • What do I want to know? (Make yourself an initial list of questions)
  • What aspects or viewpoints of this topic interest me most? Examples include social, ethical,  psychological, aesthetic, economic, political, and philosophical.
  • Am I asking a question that can be answered with fact based research, or is this really a values/opinion/beliefs question? If the latter, what do I need to change to make this a question I can answer on the basis of evidence?
  • Do I need background information on people, places, concepts, events? How does my topic fit into a larger system or structure?
  • Who (what field of study, group of researchers, organizations, etc.) is likely to have published relevant information or ideas? Who are the recognized experts in those fields?
  • Where and in what form are the results of their research likely to be published?
  • How should I interpret or evaluate the information I find? Are there things I don’t yet know that would change my interpretation or evaluation of these sources?
  • Are there primary (un-interpreted) sources I should consult?  Who would have created them? Have I come across the names of people, documents, programs, events, etc. that would facilitate my search for them?
  • What new questions are raised by these sources, both primary and secondary? Has my original question been answered or just made more complicated (and interesting)?
  • Remember, there are two layers of research:
    1) a broad search to discover resources and to read some background information
    2) specific searches for information once you've focused your topic.

Link to Narrowing Your Topic: 5 Quick Tips

LibGuides Menu

Tips to Take Away

Tips to Take Away

  1. You need background information to develop a research question.  The best sources are encyclopedias (including historical encyclopedias, when appropriate).

  1. You need to know what’s happening recently that makes this topic interesting. News sources, including newspapers, popular sources that you can find in general databases like Academic Search Complete, even blogs and Ted Talks can help you narrow your focus to a defined and answerable question.

          3. You need to know how other scholars have approached this subject.  Has anyone tried to answer the same    question? What related questions have they studied.
            Does older research need to be updated or approached from a different point of view?  Any of the databases in Sources of Journal Articles, depending on your topic,
            will help you find such scholarly articles.  They will also have other information, like assigned subject headings and, often, abstracts, that can help you
            quickly assess how relevant they are to your research and help you learn the vocabulary that experts are using when they write about your topic.

               4. If you get stuck, email me,

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