Library & Resource Center
  • Are you looking for the perfect skateboard? 
  • Need to find out more about the feud between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke for your Renaissance research project? 
  • Want to make sure a recommended internship is really a good fit for you? 
  • Interested in attending a college in the Northeast that specializes in Human Ecology? 
  • Wondering if there's an inexpensive way to buy a drop-dead gorgeous prom dress?

It takes research.

Do you think Taylor Swift is a successful businesswoman? Make your case. Find some evidence to back up your contention (thesis). Keep focused though. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you like her personally or artistically- though, these factors probably influenced your decision to choose her for your subject, and that's a good thing. It's always easier to research a topic that floats your boat. Your guiding light throughout the process should be your “research topic question”- is Taylor Swift a successful businesswoman? How would you define “success?” Should you choose your criteria based solely on your own experience, or do you need to first understand how businesspeople and/or academics define success? Which experts should you choose to establish your credibility as a trustworthy researcher? What happens if, during the course of your research, having used your carefully chosen criteria, you arrive at the conclusion that Ms. Swift is not a successful businessperson? Bummer. But, here’s the good news- it doesn’t matter. If you’ve done due diligence, and proven yourself to be an honest broker; you’re in great shape. Always follow your research through to the logical conclusion, even if you hoped for a different outcome. Remember, your teachers/audience will be grading you on your understanding of the process. Your conclusion will never be taken seriously if your research process is suspect.


1570s, 'act of searching closely,' from M.Fr. recerche (1530s), from O.Fr. recercher 'seek out, search closely,' from re-, intensive prefix, + cercher  'to seek for' (see search). Meaning 'scientific inquiry' is first attested 1630s (from the Online Etymology Dictionary)

 Conducting solid research is one of the cornerstones of information literacy, which can be defined as: 

 . . . the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information. It is the knowledge of commonly used research techniques.

 From "Information Literacy," hosted by the University of Idaho

Information for what though? Selecting a topic is the first stage of the research process, and can be a challenge. This page will give you some tips about choosing topics for expository writing assignments. For more in-depth guidance about the other stages of the writing and research process, investigate the resources Ms. M has included in her Research Toolkit list in ElRoBookmarks. There are several handouts and presentations attached at the bottom of this page. 

How to Select an Essay or Research Topic

When Ms. Mendlowitz planned her last trip to Italy, she knew she wanted to explore the Northwest. This region is quite large though, and she only had three weeks, and didn't want to do a lot of driving. She also knew her priority was seeing art. She also hoped to indulge in vast quantities of regional food. But this would be a separate research project. The first thing she did was see if there was a good travel guide for that particular area of the country. She used the New York Public Library's catalog, and settled on these:

  • Frommer's Northern Italy: with Venice, Milan and the Lakes (Frommer's CompleteGuides) by John Moretti 
  • National Geographic Traveler: Piedmont & Northwest Italy, with Turin and the Alps by Tim Jepson
  • Blue Guide Northern Italy: From the Alps to the Adriatic, Twelfth Edition by Paul Blanchard

Since Ms. M's first priority was art, she decided to start by using the Blue Guide. The Blue Guides are known for their focus on art. They not only provide historical background on cultural institutions/attractions, but specifics about collections, and individual holdings. This guide helped her narrow down the number of cities/towns she would use as her hubs: Turin, Aosta, Varenna, and Bergamo. Staying in hotels at these locations would allow her to explore the art in and around these centers without having to waste too much time driving.

So, if we were to translate this process to choosing a research topic, it might look something like this:










Ms. M already had a broad interest, and a narrower focus. She also had to factor in the limited amount of time she would have, and how best to use it. Those key factors determined her key question- which cities would give her the biggest bang for her buck? Once she formulated this question, she knew she had to find the necessary information to answer this question.

Ms. M then began the process of choosing the museums, and other cultural attractions she would actually visit. Since she has a fondness for the art of the early Renaissance, she wanted to drill down even further. However, she soon discovered that this region of Italy does not have as much Renaissance art as the Tuscany region (Why? A research project of its own). So, narrowing my itinerary down to only Renaissance art would have left me little to see. Finding a research topic is a balancing act: you don't want a topic so broad it doesn't allow you to focus, or so esoteric, that there are too few resources for you to use.

A final, important word- personal research projects like planning a vacation don't require you to present your findings for evaluation. Academic research is an entirely different animal. To be taken seriously, you must understand how to:

  • Select a topic- not too broad, but not too narrow.

One good way to narrow things down is applying the "W" & "H" questions to a broad topic:

    - War
            - Children in war (who)
            - Children in war in Iraq (who & where)
            - The emotional effects of children in the war in Iraq (who, what, where)

There are several approaches you can take to finding a good research topic,  many of which are explained in some of the resources you'll find in  ElRoBookmarks. One key thing: begin with what interests you. 
  • Search for the resources (print & online) you need to help you formulate your thesis. There are many different types of resources. For more info on the differences, check out the "LRC Resources" page on the Library site. If you're confused about the difference between directories, indexes, portals, and databases click here. Some will be more suitable than others. The nature of the assignment, your topic, and the stage in your process will help you determine which type of resources you will need.
  • Evaluate the sources you're considering using the CRAAP criteria (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose).
  • Take notes as you explore your resources, and keep them organized. Ms. M. has created two note-taking templates you should use for research projects. You will need to log on to your ElRo Google account to access them. Go to Google Drive; click on "New;" choose "More," and select "From Template." This is where you'll find them: the "Resource Master List," and the "Resource Notes Template." Make sure to read the descriptions before using them. You must click on the "Use this template" button (bottom left) to create a copy for yourself. If you don't see "From Template" under "More," click on "Connect More Apps" (also under "More"), and plug "template into the search bar. Add the "Create From Template- Drive" app. Once added, you'll see the "From Template" option under "More." You must change the name of your copy (read descriptions). Then share with any other students you're working with, and your teacher. 
  • Using a  the citation manager like EasyBib to keep track of the resources you are exploring will make your life much easier. You can make it even easier by using EasyBib with GoogleDocs. You automatically have your own EasyBib account associated with your Google account at ElRo. EasyBib allows you to correctly format your citations and reference/works cited page. Journal article databases like Gale or the ones offered by NYPL allow you to export MLA formatted citations directly to EasyBib. If you're confused about how to use these great tools, click on the "Links" sidebar link on the LRC website, and watch "Using EasyBib and Google Docs to Manage Your Works Cited." There are other great tutorials on EasyBib in ElRoBooksmarks.You can also drop by the LRC and see Ms. M. She'd be happy to help.
  • As you explore resources and take notes, questions and synchronicities will emerge and intrigue you. These coincidences, relationships and questions will help you formulate a working thesis, which is different than your topic. As you read, and synthesize more, you'll clarify, and revise your thesis. Again, if you're confused about creating a thesis, plug the word "thesis" into ElRoBookmarks.
  • Write your first draft. Don't worry about how it sounds; just begin getting it down. Things will start to crystallize as you move forward. Assumptions you made will be challenged by new information/evidence. What you once thought irrelevant may become very relevant. You may have to revise your thesis.

Good writing doesn't spring from your head, fully formed like the goddess Athena. It may take several drafts to cross the finish line. I've heard writers say that 90% of effective writing is revision.The final draft will be a product of all your edits and revisions. Your last steps will be to proofread your work for errors, and format your citations and bibliography. For more info about the general writing process, check out Vinetta Bell's "A Writing Process."

There are many different online writing and research guides included in ElRoBookmarks. There are also tutorials, tools, and guidance for specific stages of the research process.  The Research Journey is the modular 6-step presentation I created, which you can use as needed. You may find Food for Thought on The Research Process fun, illuminating and encouraging.