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Information Studies - Topic Selection

Selection of an appropriate topic is critical to success. First, your topic must fit the requirements given by your professor. Take careful notes when these requirements are discussed in class. If you have any questions, or are unclear on any points, be SURE to ask about them in class. You need to be completely clear about what you assignment is. As you look at topics, constantly review your professor's requirements. At every stage of the process you must check your work against the assignment parameters. This will ensure your handing in a paper which is on target.

Second, you topic must appeal to you. If you are not interested, the job of researching the topic will be many times as difficult.

Third, your topic must be narrow enough to allow good coverage. If you choose to write a paper about the second World War, you will never be able to read all the material. And, consequently, you writing will appear amateurish. On the other hand, if you narrow your topic to how the war affected one family, you can become an expert on the subject and will be able to write with authority. A narrow enough topic will allow you to read almost everything written about the subject. You will be a true expert and your writing will reflect this confidence and depth of knowledge.


If you are completely undecided, I suggest that you begin on the Web with the Yahoo homepage ( Notice that their directory is divided into many sub-categories such as Arts & Humanities, Business & Economy, Computers & Internet, and so on. Choose what you consider your favorite area and click on the link. I am using the Arts & Humanities section as an example.

Notice that you now have many sub-categories listed: Art History, Artists, Arts Therapy, Awards, Booksellers, Censorship, and so on. Choose your favorite area and click on the link. I will choose Cultural Policy as an example.

You should now have another list of choices, or you will have come to a list of links to individual sites. Begin looking at the individual sites, looking for what interests you and what topic might fall within the parameters given you by your professor. In going through my example, I find a site on the Cultural Policy Postulates of Latvia. I may want to narrow this topic further to just the visual arts, or the performing arts, or just music in Latvia.

Now that you have a potential topic, you must begin to explore.

If you have an idea for a topic, I would suggest that you begin with a Wilson printed Index. Use a bound volume for a full year. Choose a subject area which interests you. Wilson prints indexes for the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, business, agriculture, and several other areas. Choose a volume for a recent year.

Open the volume to your topic. I am using the Humanities Index for April 1997 to March 1998. I look up cultural policy and find no articles but a notice that I should "see also" the following:

Art and state
Cultural property--Protection
Cultural property--Repatriation
Literature and state
Music and state

Music was one of the areas on which I had decided to focus, so I look up the topic "Music and state." I find one article, listed under the sub-heading of "Singapore."

I will read this article and then the one on Latvia on the Web. I may decide to contrast the musical culture of the two countries, or their policies towards the arts. I may go through all the past indexes to see if there are any articles on Latvia under "Music and the state."

At any rate, I have zeroed in on an area which I can now research.

The advantage of the Wilson indexes is that they give cross-references. So, you will discover many terms for the same topic. The Wilson indexes also break topics down into small sub-headings. This allows you to see how the subject area is typically sub-divided, and may also help you narrow your topic.

Now let's look at
Models for Research Papers

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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