In many cases, writers have a general idea of what they might want to research for a project. However, it is normal to not know where to begin searching for a research topic. There are several ways you can arrive at a topic, and you can use any combination of these helpful strategies (Leggett and Jackowski, 2012).
While pre-writing techniques can help you identify a general topic for your research, there are still some key questions to ask yourself while formulating your topic or engaging in pre-writing techniques (Leggett and Jackowski, 2012):
These questions will review your ideas for their potential as a research topic. From here, you may need to broaden or narrow down the topic (scope).
Brainstorming, or ideation, is the process of generating ideas about a topic.
The following image represents one example of the many options or generating ideas. Webbing/clustering can lead to large graphs, sometimes spanning several pages.*
In this case, the main topic is "key influences," and it is listed in the center of the web. The student divided what they believe to be their key influences into four categories- work life, friends, family, and media. From there, the student thought of different elements in each category.
*Librarian tip: Post-it notes on a flat surface (wall, table, poster board) can help you brainstorm and rearrange ideas easily without the need for an eraser!
Brainstorming is part of the planning phase of the writing process. To read more about the elements of the writing process, we recommend the following resource:
Free writing is when you select a general topic or subject and write anything you know about it for a set period of time. You do not need to worry about grammar, sentence structure, or writing mechanics because the activity is designed to keep your ideas flowing. When you are finished writing, look at what you wrote and identify what stands out to you. Are their specific words that you used several times? Is there a common theme throughout the document? Asking yourself these questions can help you identify an area of interest about a subject, and kickstart potential new ideas for your research.
These library provided databases are your best bets for general information! Again, make sure you know your university credentials to utilize these resources off-campus.
Also, here is a list of reference databases that may be helpful in starting your research.
These free web resources may also prove useful.