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Selecting a Topic
First, you need to get acquainted with your topic. Think of it like going on a date: you're trying to get to know the other person (your topic) without scaring them off because you're trying to talk about marriage, houses, and grandkids (i.e. your "real" research) on the first date. And, of course, once you've gotten to know them better, you're able to buy them gifts and guess what they would like, because you've taken the time to establish those little basic details.
Useful when you're starting out on a research project. Do simple searches to find topic introductions in a variety of subjects. The mind map tool will help you discover related ideas and terms.
Benefits of Background Research
- CONTEXT! You can't really speak coherently about the impact of the automobile on society if you aren't also aware of what the horse-drawn carriage society was like, what the state of manufacturing was like, the purchasing power of the auto's target demographic, and so on.
- You learn the JARGON. Scholarly articles are written by experts, for experts. They don't usually take the time to remind their readers what a term or process means, since the assumption is the readers already know. This can also present a barrier to finding those articles, as well. What's a non-expert to do? You've got to learn to speak the language of the field.
- IDEA DEVELOPMENT! Let your research help you do research. As you're learning about the context and picking up on new terminology, you'll also be noticing key people, places, and events that relate to your topic... all of which will help you delve into your deeper research more effectively.
A colorful and robust mind-mapping tool that allows for more complicated branching of concepts.
Free online mind-mapping tool. Use this to develop your topic ideas-- what exactly are you going to focus, what concepts relate to that topic, what words you can use to craft your search.
Just searching Google and taking a look at what comes back can be helpful at this stage, too! You still want to be careful that you're not pulling ideas from crazy sources, but for just brainstorming, you can be a little more relaxes -- you want ideas that you'll be investigating more/better with your deeper research after this.
You can steer your results towards better sources, though, by telling Google to only give you .edu or .org or .gov sites. Example below: