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ELS/ESL Students' Guide to Library Resources

Developing a Research Question

Databases for finding/narrowing topics

Definitions and Background Information

The databases listed above may be very helpful for definitions of concepts related to your topic and background information. Below are some more sources.

Dictionaries and encyclopedias

Information about countries

Turn Your Topic Into a Research Question

What do you want to know about your topic? Turn it into a question. Asking a specific question will help you to:

  • focus your search;
  • determine which sources are useful;
  • decide when you have enough information to stop your research and start working on the answer.


Topic: children and video games

Question: Do violent video games have negative effects on children?

Topic: gay adoption

Question: Should same-sex couples be given the same legal rights as heterosexuals in adopting children?

 Where do I find help turning my topic into a question?

The databases in the box above, for example, Opposing Viewpoints in Context and CQ Researcher, may provide examples of questions or statements in the articles - you may need to look inside the article, not just at the title.

A helpful public database for finding questions: Debatabase

From Question to Keywords

Once you have formulated your research question, you need to identify key concepts and their related keywords.

1. Eliminate the words in your research topic that will not help you retrieve relevant articles. What you have left will be the keywords you'll search:

How can robots help nurses do their jobs more efficiently?

2. If you ended up with more than 3-4 keywords, think of the most important ones. It's best to add keywords later if the results are too broad.

3. Think about whether there are synonyms or related terms that you might want to search in addition to your main concepts. (You want to try to predict what other terms authors might have used for your topic.)













An asterisk (*) will find multiple forms of the word. For example, robot*  will find robot, robots, robotic, robot-assisted, etc.

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