Research help for students, faculty, and staff in Agricultural Sciences.

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic can be one of the most difficult parts of the research process. Remember that research is fluid; your topic will adapt, and even completely change, as you do your research!

This short video [3:11] from North Carolina State University gives some great advice on choosing a research topic.

Getting To Know Your Topic

When you don't know much about your topic, or even if you think you do, start your research by getting background information. This means use Google, and Wikipedia, and encyclopedias. You should never cite these sources, or use them as primary sources of information. Use them to guide you through your research and to help you get a basic understanding of your topic.


     Topic         Think about how to broaden or narrow your topic.          Consider subject areas that your topic falls under.     Choose resources to search within         Books and reference materials are great for background and historical information. Get to know your topic before digging deeper.         Consider a variety of library databases to search, based on your topic.     Keywords         While thinking about your topic and doing background research think of key words that relate to your topic. Use a variety of keywords and mix and match them to find a greater variety of results (avoid using STOP words like a, the, an, of, in, etc.)         Use AND, OR, and NOT to combine your keywords and refine your search     Evaluating what you find         What did you find? A lot? A little? Is there a way to improve your search? Try refining your search using keywords to focus your research.         If some keywords are not working, try combining them with other words, or replace them altogether in your search.     Keep track of your sources and keep citation information         It is easy to forget where you have found something. Write down a resource's bibliographic information such as author name(s), volume, issue, date, page numbers, journal title, article title, url, etc. Keep a list for all potential resources - you never know which sources of information you will use! If you are unsure of what bibliographic info you need for a particular type of resource, check the APA Manual for specifics.

Google Search Tips

Limit your results to a specific site, or type of site by using site:

  • The search agriculture will find results ending in .gov, which are government websites.    
  • The search agriculture will find results that are within the CSU websites.

Use quotation marks " " around phrases or titles.

  • "soil conservation" will find results talking about soil conservation, not about conservation that just mentions soil.

Mark important words with a +

  • If you want to make sure a word or phrase shows up in your results, but a + in front: +"soil conservation"

Eliminate resutls with a -

  • A minus sign (-) works the same as NOT: soil -conservation (Be careful when using!)

Limit your results by file type by using filetype:

  • filetype:pdf finds PDFs, while filetype:.ppt will find PowerPoints.

Broaden your search

  • Use OR the same way you would in a library database to get more results (soil OR dirt).
  • Using a tilde (~) before a word will find synonyms.

See the GoogleGuide for more tips.

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