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Defining Your Topic

Start with locating background information. Reliable sources of background information include reference sources and books that can define terms, describe theories, or provide basic data about an issue.

Creating a strategy:  Brainstorm concepts and terms connected to your topic and jot them down. To form an effective search strategy, you'll break your concept into keywords and phrases. Consider one or more of the following questions to come up with terms and to narrow your topic.

What: What is the nature of your topic? Is it an issue with various viewpoints?

Who: Who are the groups or individuals involved in/affected by this topic?

Where: Is the topic limited to or reflective of a specific region? Is it national or global?

When: When did the topic become an issue? When did it start being addressed?

Why: What caused the topic? Why is it an issue in the field of education?

How: How is this topic addressed/solved/treated? How is it viewed by different or competing groups?

Keywords and Search Terms

Once you have a better-defined topic, forming a research question can help you start your search. From your research question, you can mine some search terms to plug into the library catalog and/or research databases.

Example:           What factors influence a general education teacher's perceptions of inclusion students?

Take some keywords from your question and think of some other ways of stating them. Now you have several search terms you can try in various combinations.

This worksheet illustrates the process based on the example above. 


Write out your topic in the form of a research question:



What factors influence a teacher's perceptions of inclusion?


Choose the most important keywords in your topic and write them in the boxes below:








Brainstorm synonyms for the keywords you came up with and write them in the boxes below:











inclusive education


Worksheet adapted from Carter, T. M. (2008). Library instruction for freshmen: Avoiding repetition or the inevitable "we've done this before." Paper presented at the Georgia Conference on Information Literacy, Savannah, GA.

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