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Seven Steps to Library Research: Your Topic

Seven Steps to Library Research - A step-by-step guide to efficient research using your MSJC Library.

Identify Your Topic

Identify a topic.
If you haven't picked a topic yet, see the boxes on the right for ways to get started on developing a topic.

State your topic idea as a question.
For example, if you are interested in finding out about the use of medical marijuana to stop pain, you might pose the question, "How can medical marijuana help in the treatment of pain?"

Identify the main concepts or keywords in your research question. In this case they are medical marijuana and pain. You could also add other keywords such as treatment.

Develop Your Topic

Test Your Topic

Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by looking them up in one of the libraries databases, such as EBSCO

If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by adding additional keywords or changing the terms you are using. Finding too little information may mean that your topic is too narrow and you may need to broaden your topic. 


  • In most databases, you can narrow your search by adding the Boolean operator, AND, between your search terms. This tells the database that ALL of your search terms must be present. If you search for the keywords cloning humans ethics, the database will generally assume that you want all three search terms to be present in your search results. However, you can make it clear by entering: cloning AND humans AND ethics. 
  • While adding AND may seem to make searching easier, the terms may not be connected together in the way you want. For example, this search: successful people is translated to: successful AND people. The words may appear together or they may be spread individually throughout the resulting records. Note also, that the search may retrieve parts of your search terms such as "success" from successful.
  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific by using double quotes: Example: "successful people" AND "high achievers". The words will be searched exactly as you enter them between the quotes: next to each other and in the exact order.
  • To broaden your search, you can add the Boolean operator, OR, between search terms. This tells the database that ANY of your search terms can be present. This can be used to connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms). Example: teenagers OR adolescents OR youth OR "young adults."

Databases for Topic Exploration

Browse the databases below if you aren't sure what topic you want to focus on. These databases cover current issues and may offer some topic ideas. They generally provide background information, as well as a pro/con look at different sides of an issue.

CQ Researcher - Explores a single "hot" issue in the news in depth each week. Topics range from social and teen issues to environment, health, education, and science and technology.

Issues & Controversies - Includes coverage of hot topics in business, politics, government, education, and popular culture.

Opposing Viewpoints - Provides information on today's hottest social and controversial issues.

Suggestions for Choosing a Topic

Choosing a research topic can be a challenge. The following steps adapted from the MSJC Library Online Orientation Choosing a Topic can help you begin the process.

Area: Start with a general area of interest. For example, psychology.

Subject: Next, list subjects that fit within that area. Psychology can include addiction, depression, psychoanalysis, and more.

Topic: Select one of the subjects to be the topic of your research. Let's use addiction for this example.

Aspect: Now you have to consider different facets of the topic of addiction. Examples are: effects of dependence, addictive behavior, recovery, causes, and so on.

Description: Choose the aspect of your topic that you want to research further and formulate a research question around your topic. For example, "Are the environmental causes of addiction greater than the hereditary?" It's the question that you are going to try to answer with evidence that you gather from your research.

If you are still not sure what topic you want to focus on, consider discussing your topic ideas with your instructor or with a librarian.