Library DIY (beta)

Discover a Focused Topic

Make sure your topic meets the assignment requirements. Choose a topic that is interesting to you. If you are unsure, ask your professor for feedback.

Develop an Effective Research Question

  • Read scholarly subject encyclopedias for background research to learn more about your topic and find keywords;
  • Brainstorm related concepts and keywords. For example, if your topic is "vegetarianism," write down synonyms or related terms: vegans, whole grains, animal rights.

Discover Keywords

Searches work best if you connect keywords and short phrases that are linked together with the Boolean operator AND:

  • Not focused: Do university students in Portland, Oregon reflect the demographics of the surrounding area?
  • Better: diversity AND universities AND Portland

If your search is too broad there will be too many results. More specific keywords will narrow the results:

  • Too broad: Diversity AND education
  • Better: Diversity AND universities AND history

If your search is too narrow, there will not be enough results. Less specific keywords will find more results:

  • Too narrow: History AND diversity AND private universities AND Portland, Oregon
  • Better: History AND diversity AND universities AND Oregon

Find More Information

  • Read your course readings and class notes for ideas.
  • Check out the Subject Guides for subject encyclopedias, books, databases, and other scholarly materials.
  • Read Subject Encyclopedias for scholarly background information.
  • Talk to your instructor or Ask a Librarian.


Watch the video, Background Information, to learn more about scholarly subject encyclopedias:


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