Step 2: Define Your Research Topic And Identify Appropriate Resources

Your research statement contains the major elements of the topic you are investigating. When you define your research statement you will want to find a balance between choosing a topic that is too broad or too narrow.

Depression, Substance Abuse and Welfare Reform are all examples of broad research topics. There are entire books written on these subjects. To obtain more targeted information, you will need to think about looking at just one aspect of these topics.

For example:
  • What studies have been done on depression in men?
  • What contributes to failure in substance abuse treatment programs?
  • What are the indicators used in judging the success of welfare-to-work programs?

Depending on the context of your research, you may want to narrow your hypothesis even further.

For example:
  • What is the relationship between depression and mid-life issues in men?
  • Is there a correlation between relapse in substance abuse treatment and level of education?
  • How does the issue of child care impact the success or failure of mothers in the welfare-to-work transition?

To enable you to find books and articles related to your research statement, it is very important to identify key concepts. After you have defined your research statement, you will need to identify key concepts related to your topic. Usually you will be able to identify three or four main ideas.

If you are doing research on the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment programs for women, your key concepts would be:

(substance abuse)
(treatment)
(women)
(effectiveness)

Once you have identified the concepts, it is useful to identify synonyms for the terms. Consulting a thesaurus will help you find synonyms for concepts related to your specific subject area. Click here for a list of thesauri owned by the Harris Library.

substance abuse (alcohol, alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, drugs, addiction)

treatment (therapy, intervention, interventions, programs)

women (female, mothers, girls)

effectiveness (assessment, evaluation, outcomes, failure, success)

Typing in the singular or plural of a word can make a difference when you are searching in an online system. Using a system’s truncation feature will allow you to search for different variations of a word. The truncation symbol will vary depending on the system you are using. ALWAYS check the help menus of the system you are using for more information on truncating.

Click here to print out a copy of a handout that will help you organize your concepts.

Harris Library has also developed an interactive worksheet to help guide you through the process of creating a search strategy. Click here to use the worksheet and receive feedback from a librarian via e-mail.

Once you have an overview of the concepts and context of your research topic, you will want to find more specific information using journals and newspapers. You are now ready to begin gathering information. See Step 3 to “Find information on your topic.”

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