Think of the articles you find on your topic as an ongoing conversation. Each article is one author's (or, sometimes, a few authors') contribution to the conversation. As you start researching a topic, it's important to get up to speed on what others are saying about your topic before you decide what you want to contribute. Watch this video from the University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries:
As you learn more and more about your topic and the conversations going on around it, use that knowledge to guide you as you finalize your topic. Watch this video from the North Carolina State University Libraries:
While you're in college, you'll often be asked to find the scholarly conversation around your topic, but researching your topic doesn't have to be limited to looking at scholarly literature. Sometimes, for your purposes it might be essential to understand the conversations going on in the popular literature and in the general public.
As you prepare to start your research, it's important to note that searching in a library database is not the same as searching Google. In a database, rather than using a natural language search (most popular college majors), it's helpful to break up your topic into little "chunks" of information (college majors AND popular).
Here is an example of the keyword brainstorming process for the topic: Fast food causes health risks in children
Use the topic handout to keep track as you go along. (Here's a blank one you can print out.)
Key concepts: 1) fast food, 2) health risks, and 3) children
Once you've broken your topic into key concepts, write those key concepts in the top box of two of the columns (see the example below). Then, brainstorm additional keywords to use in your search. Try to find at least a couple additional keywords related to each key concept. It's good to find synonyms as well as broader and more narrow keywords for concept.
Once you've brainstormed your keywords, you'll connect them together using the words AND and OR:
Once you've brainstormed your keywords, you can use them to search one of our databases (see below).