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General Library Research Tutorial: Module 2: Developing a Topic

Learning Objectives

  • Narrow or broaden the focus of a topic.
  • Identify the main concepts of a topic.
  • Generate effective search terms.

What is a Search Strategy?

A search strategy is an organized plan for gathering information. Developing a search strategy will help you locate appropriate information from a variety of sources.

Develop a Topic

Choose a topic that interests you and that isn't too broad or too narrow.

Too Broad Too Narrow

Topics that are too broad have hundreds of books and articles written about them.

Example: Drug abuse

Topics that are too narrow have nothing or only one or two articles written about them.

Example: The effect of drug abuse on the athletic performance of 18-year-old hockey players in Argentina

Keep in mind that your topic isn't set in stone. As you read background information and search for sources, you can use what you learn to better define and focus your topic.

Watch this short video to learn how to narrow or broaden your topic:

Source: “Picking Your Topic IS Research!” by North Carolina State University Libraries, licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US License.

Conduct Background Research

Find background information in subject encyclopedias and textbooks. Use what you learn to define and focus your topic. The bibliographies, or lists of references, in these sources can serve as excellent starting points, since they include books and articles that are not only relevant, but also authoritative. You can find encyclopedias in BenSearch.


Identify Main Concepts & Search Terms

An important step in the initial analysis of any research topic is identifying the topic's central ideas, or main concepts. Typically, a research topic contains 2 to 4 main concepts.


Topic: The effect of playing video games on aggressive behavior in teenagers.

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
video games aggressive behavior teenagers

Once you've identified the main concepts, generate a list of search terms, or keywords and key phrases, under each concept. Consider synonyms (e.g., "teenagers" and "adolescents"), related terms, broader terms, and more specific terms.


MAIN CONCEPTS: video games aggressive behavior teenagers
SEARCH TERMS: video games
video game consoles
Assassin's Creed
wrestling video games
aggressive behavior
violent behavior
young adults
teenage girls
teenage boys

Notice that we didn't include the word "effect" in our search terms even though it's part of the topic. Terms like "cause," "effect," "relationship," "impact," "purpose," and "trends" are largely ambiguous, making them ineffective search terms. In general, overlook these kind of abstract terms.

Module 2 Quiz


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