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Business and Economics Guide

Getting started with library resources for business and economics.

3 Steps to Topic

One of the most important steps in preparing for a successful paper or project is finding a good topic. Asking "how" or "why" questions about things you have seen or experienced can help lead you to good research topic.

A good topic will be:

  • Clear
  • Focused
  • Appropriately Complex

Here are three steps that can help you arrive at a good topic that will enable you to produce a successful paper or project. 

Step 1.  Brainstorm

Take out a blank piece of paper, or, open up a new document on your computer and begin to list all of the areas or ideas that are of interest to you.

  • Have your recently read or seen a news story or article that raised questions or concerns?
  • Have you, or someone you know, experienced a situation or problem that you would like to better understand?
  • Is there something in a class or lecture that sparked your interest?

You may also want to scan sources like The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, or The Scout Report to see if there are current topics that may spark your curiosity. Jot down these ideas and some potential "keywords" that are related to these ideas.

Step 2. Scan the academic literature for articles and books related to the idea(s) that you have identified.

Begin to search the library's catalog and databases to see what has already been written about the idea(s) you have identified. This is where your keywords will come in handy. Use these keywords to broaden and refine your search. Once you have found several articles or books related to your topic, take some time to carefully skim their arguments and conclusions. 

Step 3. Refine your idea(s)

Once you have begun to identify ideas of interest and how much (or little) they have been studied and written about, you can being to make decisions about refining your idea. Some ways to refine your idea are by:

  •  Location
    • Is there a particular region, country, or location that is particularly interesting to you?
      • e.g. How did the economic recession of 2008-2009 effect Japanese governmental policies toward climate change?
  • Time Frame
    • Is there a particular period of time (e.g. last 12 months) that is particularly interesting or relevant to your idea?
      • e.g. In what ways did the 1918 influenza pandemic affect the United State's economy?
  • Population
    • Does your idea intersect with a particular groups of people in an interesting way?
      • e.g. What is the relationship between child development and environmental pollution?

Step 4: Begin Your Search

Once you have refined your idea, you are ready to begin your search for sources.