Using Databases to Find a Research Paper Topic

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It’s almost mid-semester and you still haven’t picked a topic for your research paper. No worries! The RLB Library has a few tips and tools that can help you find a topic.

Your topic can be on something you’d like to learn more about, or about an issue that is relevant today. It helps to choose a topic that is broad enough to allow research on several aspects of an issue, but not too broad that you find yourself going off on tangents. The topic should be interesting to you and perhaps meaningful in some way to today’s society. In addition, you should be able to support your ideas with research from appropriate sources.

A good way to look for topics is to read lots of stuff in the general subject areas that interest you. The RLB Library has tools for you to find reading material online. These tools include:

1. Research Starters

Go to the Library’s homepage and type in some keywords in the gray box under the “library search” tab. For example, the keyword “inflation” will result in a “Research Starter” display at the top of the search results. Research Starters are a good way to get an overview of a topic. Clicking on “more” will take you to a detailed article on the topic.


2. Credo Reference

This database is another great place to read background information on many topics. You can access Credo Reference by going to the library homepage and clicking on “Databases” beneath the search box. When you get to the list of A-Z Databases, click on the letter C and scroll down for “Credo Reference.”


In Credo Reference, you can browse by subjects. On the right side there are useful “Research Quick Tips.” You can also use “mind maps” to explore related concepts.

3. Academic OneFile (Gale)

This database includes a Topic Finder. When you input a search term, a diagram appears with “tiles” that you can click on to narrow your search and pull up relevant articles. You can access Academic OneFile through the A-Z Databases list under “A.”

4. Opposing Viewpoints (Gale in Context)

If you are interested in contemporary issues, the database Opposing Viewpoints is a good starting point to read about current social issues, with articles exploring contrasting viewpoints. This database can also be accessed from the A-Z Databases list under “O.”

In summary, finding a topic for your research paper or project can be made easier by reading background material. The four resources mentioned above can help you find those background articles that point you to an interesting and compelling topic. But don’t procrastinate! You need to set aside time to read.  Ask a Librarian if you want more information on the research process or on how to pick a good topic.

**For a really good tutorial demonstrating how to find a topic, check out this video from NC State University Libraries.**

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