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POLI_SCI_395: Political Research Seminar (Alter): Get Started

Political Science Librarian

Jeannette Moss's picture
Jeannette Moss
Contact:
University Library
2 North (Core) Rm. 2303
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
847-491-2169

Gather background / Narrow your topic / Hone your research question

Somewhere in between your initial idea and settling on a research question, you'll need to do background research on how scholars in a particular subject area have discussed your topic. You may find background research in your textbook or class readings, academic books in the library's collection, or reference sources.

The databases below compile reference sources from a variety of disciplines, and they can be a great way to consider how your topic has been studied from different angles.

Use NU Search to browse for books, reference entries, and periodicals to build background information.

 

After you have an initial project idea, you can think deeper about the idea by developing a "Topic + Question + Significance" sentence. This formula came from Kate Turabian's Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. Turabian notes that you can use it plan and test your question, but do not incorporate this sentence directly into your paper (p. 13):

TOPIC: I am working on the topic of __________,
QUESTION: because I want to find out __________,
SIGNIFICANCE: so that I can help others understand __________.

Turabian, Kate L. Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.

Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Having trouble?

  • Is there something about this topic that is not already addressed in scholarship?
  • Given the type and scope of the information that you need, is your question too broad, too narrow, or okay?
  • Which specific aspect or sub-topic of the topic can you focus on? Specific demographic groups, places, times
  • What type of information do you need to answer the research question? Qualitative?  Quantitative? Original research?  
  • Is there a relationship you can explore:
    • cause/effect or "What are the consequences of X on Y?"
    • compare/contrast
    • current/historical
    • group/individual
    • opinion/reason
    • problem/solution

How do you move from a research question to searching in a database? You first have to pick out keywords from your research question.