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Library Research Skills Tutorial

Module 1: Starting your Research

  1. Develop a Research QuestionLibrary book stacks with students studying
  2. Narrow and Broad Topics
  3. Current Event Topics
  4. Module 1 Quiz


Estimate time 15 minutes


Develop a Research Question


1. Examine your course outline and your course readings for a topic

2. Frame your topic as a problem - your research will address this problem

3. This is not your final thesis – you can revise your argument as you research


Video: Developing your Research Topic. University of Waterloo Libraries (Closed Captioned)

Finding Interesting Ideas

  • Review course readings and classroom or tutorial discussions.

  • Skim your notes from course readings and lectures for issues, topics or approaches

  • Examine your course syllabus for course goals and context that may provide some ideas

Driving Questions

  • Develop some driving questions (or problems) to guide your research.

  • Begin by considering course themes or issues relevant to your assignment.

  • Examine these and then pay attention to questions that come to mind.

Example of a Research Question:

In using the topics of poverty and childhood obesity, here are a few driving questions to consider:

  • Are city-run programs successful at reducing the risk of childhood obesity?

  • What is being done at the federal, provincial or city level to reduce childhood obesity?

  • Why are poverty and childhood obesity linked

Narrow and Broad Topics

In some cases, your topic and questions may be too broad to be handled successfully within the length limits of a written assignment. You will need a strategy for narrowing the focus to something more manageable.managing-topic

On the other hand, some topics and questions may prove too narrow and focused for an assignment, and you need to consider ways to broaden the topic.

It is not always easy to determine if a topic is too broad or too narrow for a specific assignment. Consult with your instructor (or Writing Support if you are unsure).

Here are some common strategies for narrowing or broadening topics.


VIDEO: Taming Your Research Topic. Georgian College Library (Closed Captioned)

Ways to Narrow your Topic


When: Time period

Focusing on a specific time period is a useful strategy for narrowing some topics.

For example:

Issues in Children’s Health (Pediatric Nursing)

  • Birth to 12 months
  • Years 1-5
  • Years 6-12

For a topic with time constraints that are too narrow, you might consider broadening the time period.

Where: Geographic region/country

Similar to considering a specific time period, a geographic focus can help narrow a topic

For example:globe

1. Return to Work programs

  • in Canada

or even narrower

  • in Ontario

2. Harm reduction drug strategies for youth

  • in Toronto

or broader

  • in Canadian urban centers.

Why: Disciplinary & Theoretical perspectives

You could consider employing a particular disciplinary perspective or theory. Keep in mind the themes of the course for which you are writing the assignment and the perspectives or theoretical approaches addressed in class.

Scholars from different disciplines will often approach the same issue quite differently. Consider the issue “income inequality.” Some possible topics that may follow from different disciplinary perspectives include:

  • Economics: relationship between income distribution and economic growth
  • Social Work: anti-oppression practice and income inequality
  • Nursing: impact of income inequality and population health

Who: Key groups, thinkers, and institutions

For a particular issue, you may want to limit your consideration to a small number of key groups, thinkers or institutions, and their role or influence on a particular issue. The following examples of “who” can help narrow a particular issue into a more workable topic:

1. Reform of Toronto Community Housing

  • Role of Municipal and Provincial Government
  • Impact on Seniors, Residents with Disabilities etc.,

To broaden the topic, consider the roles played by multiple institutions and individuals. How might these relate to one another or conflict?


Tip BoxRevise, revise, revise!
The process of narrowing and broadening is often recursive. That is, you may need to revisit your topic and driving questions several times during your research, reading and writing.

Current Event Topic

Understanding the publication timeline is the key to tackling current event topics!

For current event topics, it's important to remember that  scholarly articles can take years to be published, but we don’t want you to think that you can’t write about current events. Writing on current events involves linking your current event to the larger topic  or to previous research on a similar event.

Timeline of how information is produced

The Larger Topic:

So for example if you are writing on the use of social media to feel connected during Covid-19, you can look for research on how people use social media to feel connected and link this research to your current topic.

The Similar Event: 

If you topic is about how social media helped a current cause or social justice movement, look for research on previous social movements that were helped by social media and link this research to your movement. 

The following infographic outlines how you can use current resources like newspapers, blogs or music and older scholarly resources that are related to your current event. 

Incorporating Popular and Scholarly sources into a current event topic

Module 1 Quiz