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Exploring your topic



Finding literature on a specific topic is one of the most important skills to learn, and it's more an art than a science.  It requires persistence and creativity.  You need to know about the appropriate tools and databases, and know how to use them effectively.  This is much more than just "googling" some words!  

Whether you have an assigned topic, and you need to narrow down to a manageable research question or start forming a hypothesis, or you are free to choose any topic you want, the first step in narrowing that topic is researching sources for background information.

First, you can search popular sources for topics or background information. Popular sources differ from scholarly sources in that they are written for a non-specialist audience. Credible science writing is based on scholarly research. The advantage of these sources is that they often discuss the application of the research in ways that the scholarly literature does not. Here are some suggestions for topics in physics:

You can also browse through scholarly journals when looking for a topic. This will help you refine your topic and find sources that you can use in your project. Here are some links that will help you find relevant journals:

As you browse through these sources, be sure to note:

  • Topics that interest you and/or intersect with what you are learning in class; engaging with a topic is a key to success. 
  • Keywords and subject terms for main concepts; using these terms will help you find information more effectively in the databases or websites
  • Where authors disagree (usually in the introduction) or areas for more research (usually at the end of an article); these are subjects you can explore. 
  • Sources in the text and the reference section that may be useful to you.
  • The names of key researchers so you can find more of their works; key researchers are those names you may observe several times.