Effectively defining your topic will save you time when you start searching for books, articles and other types of information. Be sure to choose a topic that is neither too broad nor too narrow and that is manageable within the scope of your assignment.
Select a broad topic
Begin by selecting a broad topic that you'd like to explore. Unless you have a specific idea, begin by selecting a broad topic. Below are some examples of a broad topic:
- Mental health
- Academic Literacy
- Gun control
Find background information
After selecting a broad topic, find and read background information to help narrow and focus it. Here are some library sources that may be helpful:
- Canadian Encyclopedia
- Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online
- Dictionnaire du littéraire
- Dictionnaire des oeuvres littéraires du Québec
- Dictionnaire des termes littéraires
- Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics
- Literature Resources from Gale
- Oxford Reference Online choose the "literature" subject area
- ARTFL Project: includes a number of full-text reference books in French
Narrow down your topic
Once you've read some background information, you'll be in a better position to narrow down your topic. A narrower topic will make it easier to search for sources later on, and to know what keywords, dates, locations, or disciplines of study are important for your research. Below are some strategies to narrowing down your topic:
- Choose a specific aspect or sub-group to study
- Instead of studying all people, look at adolescents specifically
- Instead of studying all online communication, look at email specifically
- Instead of studying all cars, look at SUVs specifically
- Choose a specific place or a narrower location
- Instead of studying all of East Asia, look at China specifically
- Instead of studying alll of Canada, look at Ontario specifically
- Choose a specific time - a shorter length of time will be more specific
- Finding information about a specific time period can be difficult - do a test search to make sure this is useful for your topic
- Instead of studying all time, look at the most recent 20 years specifically
- Instead of studying the 20th century, look at the 1980s specifically
- Choose two perspectives or variables and compare them, or look for a relationship (such as a cause and effect)
- Compare your topic in a modern/contemporary setting and a historical setting
- Compare groups to individuals
- Compare men and women
- Compare two different locations
- Try concept mapping to further explore and refine your research topic.
- Try the following exercise: Is the Question Too Broad or Too Narrow?
Help with your research question
Need more help with your Research Question? Try these:
The following are some basic search tips that can be used in Omni and most academic databases. Unlike in Google and in other search engines, you will not get satisfactory results if you type an entire sentence, such as "Note-taking by hand vs. computer: effect on learning and retention? " You need to pick out the key phrases, words, and concepts. And because we're looking to find resources in both English and in French, you'll have to identify these in both languages.
Step 1: Identify keywords from your topic
note-taking by hand vs computer
English: notetaking, note-taking, hand notetaking, computer notetaking, digital notetaking
French: prise de note, ordinateur, note a la main
|Learning and retention||
English: Learning, retention
French: Apprentissage, conservation de l'information
Resources to find synonyms
- Termium Plus: One of the largest terminology and linguistic data banks in the world, gives you access to millions of terms in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. You can find terms, abbreviations, definitions and usage examples in a wide range of specialized fields.
- Tradooit: Translating aggregator that allows for machine translation of text.
- Thesaurus: World’s largest and most trusted free online thesaurus brought to you by Dictionary.com
- GraphWords: Online thesaurus that helps users find the meanings of words and show connections among associated words.
- Visuwords: A modern dictionary for a modern world. Visuwords represents language visually.
Step 2: Use special characters & boolean operators
Special characters (asterisk*, quotation marks, parentheses) and boolean operators (AND, OR) to limit or expand your search. Boolean operators should be capitalized when used in searching databases.
- Use AND to combine and limit your results (ie. note-taking AND retention)
- Use OR when using synonyms and want to expand your results (ie. digital notetaking OR hand notetaking)
- Use asterisk* to search for all variations of the word (ie. notetak*)
- Use the quotation marks to search for phrases (ie. "hand notetaking")
- Use parentheses to group keywords by concept. (ie. ("digital notetaking" OR "hand notetaking") AND (learn* OR retention)
Step 3: Searching using Databases
Explore the use of the Advanced Search function when available in Omni or other databases. This allows you to better structure your search with the boolean operators. Once you've done your search, use the filters to refine your search.
Use the Omni search box on the library home page to search for books, e-books and journal articles (and many other sources of information). Please consult our help guide on using Omni and our search tips on using Omni.
Other recommended databases
Databases that are IN French (not just literature or linguistics)
- Repère index to a mix of scholarly and popular magazine, some full-text
- Erudit: full text of many scholarly Canadian journals, many subject areas (not just literature)
- Cairn.info: full-text of journals from France, many subject areas (not just literature)
- Persée: moving wall archive (like the English language JSTOR) of scholarly journals from France in the humanities
- Eureka.cc: full text of newspapers as well as some magazines & journals
- Calame: this site provides one access point for hundreds of french language databases in Europe. NOTE: Searching this site does not search the individual databases. Rather Calame is a tool to help you find some interesting databases: you must still connect to each database to search the contents.
- Pascal & Francis produced by INIST, it covers the humanities and social sciences. About 30% of the resources are in French and 40% are from European sources. NOTE: ONLY COVERS MATERIAL UP TO 2015
Databases for Literature
- MLA International Bibliography can also be searched as part of the larger Literature Resources from Gale
- Literature Resources from Gale
Databases for Applied Linguistics & Discourse Studies
- Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA)
- ERIC: The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) produces the world's premier database of journal and non-journal education literature (including the areas of language acquisition and second language learning), with links to many documents in full text.
- Sociological Abstracts: will cover areas related to sociolinguistics
Citation is an essential component of the research process. Through citation you connect your work to the history of research on your topic and give credit to the thinking that has come before you. Citation is a standard practice in academic writing. Proper citation is a fundamental element of academic integrity. This video produced by NC State University Library explains what citation is and why we cite:
For this course, the recommended citation style is either the APA or MLA citation style.
- OWL APA - Purdue University
- APA Style blog: can search for past questions or post a question of your own
- Normes bibliographiques de l'APA – 7e édition (Adaptation française)
- Citer selon les normes de l'APA - Université de Montréal