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How to Conduct Academic Research

This guide provides an introduction to the research process.

Start by brainstorming some potential topics to explore further.


  • Look through your syllabus or textbook for themes, concepts, or ideas that interest you, even if you haven't covered them in class yet.
  • Search the topic or name of your course in Google or a library article database. Check out any results that look interesting.
  • Think about your major or your hobbies. Do any of your personal interests overlap with the topic of the class?
  • If you can, choose a topic that interests you and captures your attention. The research will be much more enjoyable if you're truly interested in the information you're looking for!
  • Discuss topic ideas with your professor or classmates.
  • Discuss topic ideas with a librarian. A librarian can also personally guide you through the various research steps.
  • Explore current trends and topics in our databases.
  • Browse current magazine/news/journal articles for ideas.
  • Scan encyclopedias or introductory sources.
  • Make a list of keywords that will help you when you go to search for information.
  • Let these credible sites help you develop an idea:
  • Check out the New York Times Topic Page. Each topic page collects all the news, reference and archival information, photos, graphics, audio and video files published on various topics.
  • Or try the Idea Generator from Old Dominion University. This page contains a wide assortment of ideas, organized under broad categories.


From the University of Texas at Austin, check out this search term generator - How to Generate Keywords

Sometimes a topic may be too broad in scope, and although there is plenty of information on that topic, it can often be difficult to effectively cover such broad topics in research papers or other projects.

In general, if your topic is too broad, use who, what, where, when, and why questions to focus your topic better.


Other times, a topic may be too narrow; if there is very little reliable information or it is extremely hard to even find information on a topic, you may need to consider broadening it.

If your topic is too narrow, take a step back in your research and use the who, what, where, when, and why questions to expand the topic more.


topic chart

broad/narrow topics


picking a research topic infographic

"File:Picking a Research Topic.png." Haren, Shonn M., Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 28 Nov 2016, 07:45 UTC. <>. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

General databases are good places to start when researching. SC4 has several general databases, which you can find below. For more on using the library databases, check out our research guide "How to Use the Library Databases."

SC4 Library also has many subject-specific databases and research guides, both of which can help to generate ideas for research topics.