- Pick a topic that grabs your attention and that you're interested in learning more about.
- Find some background information so that you can develop some basic understanding of the topic.
- Brainstorm for ideas about a few different aspects of the topic that interest you. The sources you use to find background information are also good places to find ideas for aspects of the topic.
- Searching a database can help you decide how to focus your topic (see the example with screenshots below). You'll need to determine if your topic idea is too broad (you're getting too many search results) or too narrow (you're not finding enough information). Revise your topic accordingly, seeking help from your instructor or a librarian if you want some guidance.
- The topic development phase can be the most challenging part of the process for many students, so asking a librarian for assistance is definitely the way to go.
Below is an example using the database CINAHL Complete. The broad topic is asthma and the aspect we are investigating is asthma in children. This simple search turns up over 5100 results. This topic is way too big and needs to be narrowed down.
Scrolling down the screen, you will see that the left column of the database contains many different ways of focusing the topic and narrowing down the search results.
The Subject: Major Heading section (located in the left column) is particularly helpful in finding ideas on which to focus your topic. Here's an example of some of the options located in Subject: Major Heading when you click on Show More. The "Hit Count" will show you how many articles correspond with each subject heading term.
Looking at the Subject: Major Heading area can help you narrow down a broad topic (such as asthma in children) by showing you which aspects of the topic are covered in the database and how many articles there are for each aspect (the hit count).
For example, if you are researching the topic of asthma in children, you can tell that this topic is too big because the database has over 5000 articles about it. One way to narrow down this topic is to focus on environmental exposure as a cause of asthma in children.
See the CINAHL database tutorial to see how to proceed with your database search.