COR 110 Burkholder: Step 1: Identify the Information You Need

noun_man_fail_to_understand_blueprint_1930799.pngUnderstand the Assignment

Before you move forward with your research assignment, you need to FIRST understand what is exactly required of you by your teacher for this assignment.

Listed below are some questions you can ask yourself when beginning any research assignment:

1. What is the topic for this assignment?

  • Is the topic already provided or do I have to develop my own?
  • Is the prescribed topic broad or narrow?
    • If you choose a topic that is erudite or obscure, factor in additional time for locating resources or research in the field. Likewise, if you choose a broad topic it may be impossible to narrow down to a manageable length. "Sports", for example, is a vast topic--one that could quickly overwhelm you.
  • What subject do I have to develop my topic around?  
  • What am I interested in around this subject area and is it consistent with the assignment?
  • What do I know about this topic and what do I want to know? 
  • Do I understand the language being used to describe the topic or subject? (If not, look up the language before moving on)

2. What kind of sources am I required to use?

  • Do the sources have to be peer reviewed?
  • Am I required to find sources from a specific resource?
  • Is there a required number, or limit, on how many sources I must use?
  • Do my sources have to be a specific length?
  • Do the sources have to be published within a certain time period?

3. Where can I find this information?

  • Do I have to use sources found in the Corette Library?
  • Can I use the internet, i.e. search engines, to find sources as well?
  • Is there a professional group or association that would have this particular information (e.g. American Psychological Association, American Nurses Association)?

4. How long is your paper?

  • You should not select a broad topic if your paper is short as you will not have the space to thoroughly discuss it. Example: It is unlikely that you will be able to write about the differences between the religion of Islam and Christianity in a 5 page paper.

Preliminary Research: the Research BEFORE you research

Preliminary Research: the Research BEFORE you research

noun_research_3011416.pngIn order to effectively search, identify and discuss scholarly resources for your assignment, you are going to need to know enough of your topic ahead of time. Enter preliminary research.

At this point, you are working to understand your topic -- you should be able to give someone else a brief overview -- and the issues surrounding it. Preliminary research will also allow you to discern whether there is enough available information that meets your needs, and will set the context of your research; you may find it necessary to adjust the focus of your topic in light of the resources available to you.

noun_starting_1512103.pngReference resources are meant to be great starting points for learning about your topic and gathering relevant background information as preliminary research.  

  • Encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs and handbooks can be valuable tools, especially if they are subject-specific.
  • Although Wikipedia should not be used as a final resource, it can be a useful jumping-off spot for determining the scope of a topic or broad background. Additionally, there are often links and bibliographic citations in Wikipedia that can be helpful in referring you to more authoritative, trustworthy resources. 

noun_web_3213049.pngYou can also use Google or other web search engines.​ If you use web resources, you want to ensure you are closely evaluating your information, which is an essential step as part of the research process. Not all information is created equal. ​

Find out more about evaluating web resources in Step 4: Evaluating Information


Narrowing a Topic and Developing a Research Question

The following handout from Indiana University Bloomington will help you move from a topic into a research question. 


Watch the 3 minute video below to be better informed about the research process and strategies for selecting a topic.

Page Credits

Columbia Southern University. "Develop a topic." How to do research. Mar. 20, 2020,

Gallaudet University. "Pre-Writing Strategies." Tutorial & Instrucional Programs.

Gallaudet University. "Sample of a Tree Diagram." Tutorial & Instrucional Programs.

NC State University Libraries. "Picking Your Topic IS Research!" YouTube, 1 May 2014,