Inver Hills Community College - IHCC

Choosing a Topic

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Library Resources for Topics Ideas
Note: If you are accessing these databases from off-campus, you will need to log in using your StarID username and password or use the library barcode on the back of your student ID card and last name.

CQ Researcher Restricted Resource Some full text available Resource contains imagesdatabase
Covers current issues and controversial subjects. Each full-text weekly report is written by an experienced journalist and contains an overview of the topic, current outlook, pros and cons, a bibliography, and more.
Note: 1923 - present

Credo Reference Restricted Resource Some full text available Resource contains images Resource contains audio
Online reference books in a variety of topics from Art to Technology. Includes topic overviews, images, bilingual dictionaries and more. Credo also has concept mapping capabilites.

Gale Virtual Reference Library Restricted Resource Some full text available Resource contains images Resource contains audiodatabase eref ebook
Online reference books that provide overview information in a variety of subject areas.
Key to Icons

Restricted Resource = Restricted resource
Some full text available = Some full text
findit = OpenURL enabled
Resource contains images = Images
Resource contains video = Video files
Resource contains audio = Audio files
elm = ELM
database = Database
eref = eRef
ebook = eBook

Module 3: Choosing a Topic
This module covers topic selection and how to identify keywords to search your topic. When you have completed this module you should be able to:
  • broaden or narrow a topic
  • identify keywords for a topic
  • use connectors and truncation in constructing a search
  • understand the difference between keyword, subject, author, and title searching
Watch the video below to get an idea about how choosing a topic may be a little more complicated than you think. ​This video was created by the North Carolina State University Library.


Narrowing a Topic
It's a good idea to choose a topic that interests you, something you'd like to know more about. For example, you could start with a topic that is very broad, like marketing. But you will find way too much information on this subject - enough to write several books. 

Instead, think of some aspect or sub-topic of the general subject of marketing that interests you. Maybe one of these?
  • Internet marketing
  • Green marketing
  • Marketing to special groups
Let's say you are interested in marketing to special groups. 
You could narrow the topic even more by adding a sub-topic:

to an age group              Marketing to adolescents

a location       →                 Marketing in Japan

an additional topic    →       Marketing in magazines

a population      →              Marketing to minorities or women

It's helpful to write out your topic as a sentence or a question. Let's say the question that most interests you is:

How do advertisers market their products to women?

Brainstorming Keywords in Concept Maps

Now you'll need to pick out the most important keywords for your searching. These are generally nouns.

How do advertisers market their products to women?

Look at the concept maps below. Concept maps are another way to explore different aspects of a topic. A concept map can also help generate keywords for searching. In the example below, ther related words for products and women might be:

products: clothing, clothes, cigarettes or liquor, computers, toys
women: girl, girls, gender, female, females, ladies, mothers

You can see that plurals are included. Try to think about alternate spellings of words or abbreviations, too. For example, for 'computers' you could narrow to PC or Macs, if you wanted to be more specific.   

Watch the video below for more information about creating a concept map for brainstorming ideas. If you are a visual learner, this may be a great resource. The video is from the Appalachian State University, Belk Library, Boone, NC.


Keyword Searching in Databases

The parts of each record or citation in a database are searchable. These parts are called fields. When you search by a field, the computer will look only in that field when it looks through all the records in the database. It is trying to match your term.

Author Search looks only in the  author field
Title Search looks only in the title field 
Subject Search looks only in the subject heading field
Date Search looks only in the date field to find the date a item was published.
But . . . a Keyword Search looks for items anywhere in the record, including the date, author, subject, title and description fields. It is the broadest search. Also, keyword searching is flexible and allows you to combine more terms in a search, for example, 
"children and advertising."

Search Keywords Video
Watch this video from the University of Houston Libraries to see another way to go from a broad topic to a narrower one by choosing and changing keywords.  

Keyword Searching Tips and Tricks

Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) are used to connect keywords and concepts when searching. They are named after the Irish mathematician, George Boole. (This link will take you to the database, Credo Reference. You will need to login to the database using your starID username and password.)

    Operator      Example Result

philosophy AND ethics
flamenco AND Spain

Retrieves records that contain     
ALL of the search terms.

hotels OR motels

color OR colour

Retrieves records that contain
ANY of the search terms, but
does not necessarily include
all of them.

java NOT coffee
vikings NOT football

Excludes records containing
the second search term.


Truncation is like a wildcard. Added to the stem of a word, it will find that stem plus anything that comes after it. The symbol used to truncate a word depends upon the database or Web search engine you are using.  

psychol?                           will return records on psychology, psychological, or psychologist.

environ*                            will return records on environment, environments, environmental. 
(* is used as the truncation symbol in MnPALS, Academic Search Premier, and many of the library databases.)
Types of Databases

The two types of library databases that you will be using are: the library catalog (OneSearch) and article databases. You'll learn more about them in the next modules.

Library catalogs

organize all of the materials a library purchases and has access to. These include records for books, ebooks, videos, sound recordings, online films, articles from magazines, journals, newspapers, etc.

Article databases are used to identify articles on a topic.


Some article databases such as Academic Search Premier or Expanded Academic ASAP are general or multidisciplinary.  If you're not sure which database to use first, start with a general one.
ABI Inform Some databases specialize in a particular subject area, such as nursing, legal, or business.

Review all you have learned in this module by viewing this video from the University of Minnesota
Strategies for Choosing a Research Topic
Wrap Up

Way to go!

You've completed the module Choosing a Topic and should be able to:

  • broaden or narrow a topic
  • identify keywords for a topic
  • use connectors and truncation in constructing a search
  • understand the difference between keyword and subject searching

Please continue to Module 4: Finding Books.

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