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English 201 Research in the Disciplines

Selecting a Topic: Overview

When you are assigned to write a paper and have to choose a topic, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by ideas or completely at a loss. Thankfully, the Rutgers Libraries provide resources to help you choose and narrow your research topic:

The resources on this page will help you get started in developing a research focus, gathering background information and refining your topic:

  • Watch the Video: Research Process
  • Complete the Tutorial: Developing a Research Focus
  • Watch the Video: Types of Sources
  • Complete the Tutorial: Background Research Tips
  • Review: Finding Background Information to identify a potential topic of interest
  • Watch the Video: How to Narrow Your Topic
  • Watch the Video: Framing a Problem
  • Complete the Search Term Development Worksheet
  • Try the Mind Map to further develop relevant search terms

Video: Research Process

Tutorial: Developing a Research Focus

Video: Types of Sources

Tutorial: Background Research Tips

Finding Background Information

The following sources are useful  to identify topics, overviews, background information, concepts, theories, ideas, and key references:

Access World News

  • Covers newspapers and news wires across the world.

CQ Researcher

  • Full-text, weekly topical reports.
  • Focuses on topics considered newsworthy or issues of broad interest to the general public.


  • Covers newspapers; magazines; trade journals; newsletters; and television and radio transcripts focusing on business.

Gale eBooks

  • Includes topical overviews; essays; book chapters; primary documents; specialized encyclopedia articles; and other sources.

ProQuest Ebook Central

  • Collection of over 200,000 scholarly ebooks from various publishers across all academic disciplines.

Sage eReference Encyclopedias  

  • Includes specialized encyclopedia articles written by experts in the respective topical areas.
  • Good source for background information; overviews; references; terms; and ideas for topics.

Subject Encyclopedias

  • Access one of many subject encyclopedias available through Rutgers University Libraries.


  • Wikipedia can be a good starting point for developing your topic. You can discover vocabulary or technical terms for an unfamiliar topic and find dates and timelines for historical events. Check the cited sources at the bottom of the page to find references to reliable sources such as scholarly books and articles. Once you’ve found adequate background information on your topic from Wikipedia, you can explore other scholarly sources for a more complete picture of your topic. Watch the brief video below by Stanford History Education Group on "How to Use Wikipedia Wisely".

Video: Narrowing Your Topic

Video: Framing a Problem

Developing Search Terms

Using the attached "Search Term Development" worksheet:

  1. Review the example provided (page 1)
  2. Develop your own topic using your paper topic and the blank page (page 2)

Mind mapping is another technique to help you with brainstorming and further developing relevant search terms. In order to create a mind map, you usually start in the middle of the page with the central theme/main idea and from that point you work outward in all directions to create a growing diagram composed of keywords, phrases, concepts, facts and figures  Click on the mind map template below on the left and try it on your own device.


Mind Map



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