How to Begin Research

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Where do I Start My Research?

Did you ever have a research assignment in which you weren’t familiar with the topic? What does one do in this case? This handout will explain how to learn enough about a subject to be able to focus a search and to brainstorm keywords for finding books and articles in magazines or journals.

Let’s begin with the topic of gun control. Since gun control is very broad, you will want to narrow it to one of the issues related to it. For example: gun control and school violence

A good way to better understand a topic and those subjects related to it is to read a state of the art article on it in an encyclopedia or any source that will provide background on the topic. This will alert you to the major issues and give a chronology of events. Specialized encyclopedias are especially good at outlining knowledge, e.g., The Encyclopedia of Juvenile Justice. The following illustrates a possible search strategy:

Sometimes the topic is too new and you will need to check newspapers or Websites to learn more about it. When you use the online catalog to search for books, you sometimes need to use less specific keywords than if you were looking for articles in magazine databases. For example, the search term, “puppy mills” may not yield as many results when searching for books. In order to get more information, you could broaden the search and type: “animal rights.”

After familiarizing yourself with the topic, you will then articulate a thesis statement. This states the focus of your research and what you are hoping to achieve in your paper. Gun control and school violence might lend itself to a thesis that “The lack of gun control contributes to the increase in violence in the schools.” You would then have to find information that makes a correlation between the two topics and prove that school violence is on the rise due to the proliferation of guns. This infers a cause and effect relationship. Remember, research is a process. Sometimes we need to start over again with a variation on the first topic or change the topic altogether.

To access the library’s Website, go to

Let us know if you have questions. Good luck with your research.


D. Spanfelner, Ph.D.
Broome Community College, Library

December 6, 2011