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Information Literacy, Level Two: How to identify a topic and keywords

1. Brainstorm possible topics

step 1 identify topics

Choosing a topic is the first, and often the most difficult, phase of the research project.

  • Consider your own interests
  • Talk with your classmates and professor
  • Look at encyclopedias or dictionaries to become familiar with the topic and topic-specific vocabulary
  • Review class readings and your class notes
  • Browse the shelves for books or magazines on your subject
  • Create a concept map

2. Review assignment requirements

step 2 review assignment

Ask yourself and make sure you can answer:

  • What kind of assignment is it - 5 minute oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper?
  • How much information do you need? What do you already know?
  • Does the information need to be current or historical?
  • What types of publications do you want to read - newspaper articles, books, journal articles, trade publications?
  • What formats do you need - visual, audio, printed, electronic?
  • Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?
  • When is it due and how much time do you have?
  • Which citation style should you use?
  • How many sources do you need?
  • Who is your audience?

3. List keywords to define your topic

step 3 list keywords

  • A keyword is a term that conveys the principle concept of your topic - the more complicated the topic is, the more keywords you may need
  • State your research topic as a question or a thesis statement
  • Start your list of keywords using the words in the question/statement

For example, for the question: Would an assault weapons ban reduce gun violence in America?

Sample keywords are: assault weapons, gun violence, America

  • Think about the significant terms, concepts and words that describe your topic - these ideas are the key to searching for information in library catalogs, on-line databases and other resources.
  • If the words you chose aren't working, try synonyms. 

                  For example, for the question: How has global warming impacted climate change?

                  Sample keywords are: global warming, climate change

                  Synonyms are: Earth's temperature, Earth's atmosphere, environmental change, environmental crisis, greenhouse gases

4. Gather background information on your topic

step 4 gather background



See how to build a concept map and generate keywords

This video from Douglas College Library is a great introduction to concept mapping. The video also shows how concept maps can help you refine your topic and start building your keywords for searching library resources.

Picking your topic is research

Courtesy of NCSU Libraries

Where to find research topics

You will be spending time on your research paper, so be sure to choose a topic that will sustain your interest! 

You can find ideas for research topics by using the following strategies and resources:

  • Scan your textbook and other class readings for topic ideas and suggestions
  • Draw on what you have read or seen recently that interested you
  • Pick a topic relevant to your life 
    Considering a career in politics?  Hoping to start your own business?  Thinking of studying abroad next year? Choose a topic that allows you to learn about something you can apply to your daily life.
  • Check out our Research Guides
    Our Research Guides cover a wide variety of topics and one just might spark your interest!

Keyword Tool: Credo Mind Maps

Our Credo Reference database has a mind map section you may find helpful when coming up with keywords. From the Credo Reference homepage, click on Mind Map and enter the main keyword from your topic.


Image of Credo Mind Map


Keyword Tool: Credo Topic Pages

Our Credo Reference database also has a section called Topic Pages. From the main search box, you can choose topic search and enter a term to see if a topic page exists for that subject.

Image of Credo topic search link


Usually major events, movements, and people have topic pages. Topic pages list out other related terms and topics for  subject, images, and when you scroll down the page under Suggested Resource, other databases are listed and the links take you to other entries in the databases on your topic.

Brainstorming Tools

Below are websites that can help you come up with a research topic and keywords.