UNST High School Senior Inquiry: Develop Your Topic

Topic Development Worksheet

Background Information Worksheet

Analyze your Search Strategy Tutorial

Analyze your Research Strategy Tutorial

Narrow Your Topic

The topic you choose will be guided by your assignment.  Read your assignment instructions carefully.  Then, consider the following questions:


  • What do you already know about it?  What do you want to know about it?
  • What aspects, or viewpoints, about your topic interest you most?


  • Which groups are most affected by your topic?  For example, gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, etc.
  • Who is involved in the discussion?


  • What place or geographic region does your topic most affect? 
  • Is it universal?  Or contained to one region?


  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • Is it a current issue that affects people today?
  • Do you need a historical look at the topic?  How has it changed over time?

Your topic will likely go through many drafts before you decide on the best topic for your assignment.  Your research question may change, narrow, or expand as you learn more during the research process.  If you need advice about your topic, ask your instructor or your librarian. 

Get to Know Your Topic - Background Information

Before you start searching for sources, you need to know the nuts and bolts of your topic.  Background information will help you:

  • Understand the basic elements of your topic
  • Narrow and focus your research question
  • Determine relevant keywords and search terms
  • Plan your research

Background research can take many forms, such as general googling or reading a wikipedia article.  However, subject encyclopedias are trustworthy, academic sources written by experts on the subject.  Subject encyclopedia entries, or articles, also include a list of references, or further reading on the subject, that you can also use for your research.  

Search subject encyclopedias at Portland State University Library

Topic Development

This 6 minute video explains how to go from a topic idea to a narrowed, focused research question.

Find Background Information

This 3 minute video explains how to find background information at the Portland State University Library. 

Subject Encyclopedias

Scholarly subject encyclopedias provide background information about specific topics. Entries or articles, written by scholars or subject experts, include bibliographies or suggested readings that will lead to more information on your topic.

You can use subject encyclopedias to identify keywords for your research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.