IRW 115 - Fierman: Getting curious

Getting curious about ideas

Before you can get started finding sources for your bibliography,  spend some time considering topics that you are curious about. Are there ideas in There There that struck you? Are there other topics that you want to investigate? Consider reviewing your reading log and class discussion posts for possible topics.

As you're thinking about topics, consider these questions:

  1. What interests me about this topic?
  2. What questions do I have about this topic?
  3. Who is affected by this? Who cares about this?
  4. What are the major issues involved in this topic? Are there particular controversies or viewpoints of note?
  5. What key terms describe this topic or are there organizations or people should I be aware of?

Here is an example of an interesting article examines a common misconception- that European colonists introduced horses to indigenous people in the Americas- and presents evidence and information contradicting that idea. It's a good example of using information to examine an idea: "Yes world, there were horses in Native culture before the settlers came," from Indian Country Today.  

Sources for Background Research

Once you have a general topic idea, it can be helpful to do some background reading in order to understand the context of your topic . You may also decide that you want to change the focus of your research as you learn more about your topic.  Your background readings will also help you identify keywords you can use in your searching as you continue your research.

Brainstorm Keywords for Searching

As you read about your topic, make a note of search terms that will be useful for finding articles on your topic.  When you are searching Google or other search engines, you can use "natural language" searching - just type in your whole question and you may find exactly what you want.  Database searching and advanced Google searching requires more precise use of search terms. 

Watch the 2 minute video from Portland State University below for some useful tips.  

Using curiosity to form a question

In this video, you’ll learn how to turn something you find interesting into a researchable question for a college research project.

Narrow Your Topic to a Research Question

Almost any broad topic you find interesting will work for starting your research.  As part of the research process, you will explore this broad topic and find a focused issue within that topic that will work well for your academic research project. Examples:

Broad topic:  music
Focused topic: What is the effect of music on learning in elementary school children?

Broad topic:  vegetarianism
Focused topic:  How does a vegetarian diet affect global warming?

Broad topic:  extraterrestrial life
Focused topic: What evidence have astrobiologists found about the indicators of life in outer space?

Plan to take some time exploring your topic, and to be flexible about what your final research question will be.  You may find that you will change your focus as you learn more about your topic and find new angles that interest you.

The library database SIRS Knowledge Source provides a method of drilling down from a broad, general topic to a specific one. Scroll down to the Browse all Pro/Con issues section to see the general subject areas and then click on one to view the more specific topics associated with it.

Sometimes mapping out the ideas and key concepts within your topic can help you narrow to a focused research question. This video will show you how to map your way to a focused question. You can also click here to see an example of a concept map done on a computer.