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Research Skills Tutorial

Module 1: Getting Started

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Select and focus your topic.
  • Determine the type of information needed.
  • Set realistic limits on your research needs.


A research strategy can be adapted to almost every subject. Using a research strategy will make the library research process more successful. The research strategy outlined in this module is one approach to shaping your research process and efficiently meeting the needs of your project.

Focusing your Topic

  • Select the topic

The first step in any research process is selecting your topic. First ideas for a research topic are typically broad and sometimes vague. Gathering background information on your topic, such as an overview from an encyclopedia, will help frame the context of your topic. The next section, Finding Background Information, provides more information on this step.

  • Narrow the topic

Once you've gathered some background information, you can formulate a specific research question from your topic. For example:

Example of broad and narrow topics

  • Adjust the topic

As you begin to gather information for your research project, you may discover that you need to adjust your topic. If there is too much information, you will need to narrow your focus. If there is not enough information, you might need to broaden your research question.

Four methods to focus a topic

Finding Background Information

Encyclopedias are an excellent source of background information, providing a concise overview of a topic. This overview also provides ideas for focusing a topic by outlining all aspects of it, and alerts you to terminology related to the topic.

General encyclopedias, like the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the World Book Encyclopedia, provide a general overview. Subject encyclopedias provide more detailed coverage of a topic and usually include a bibliography at the end of each entry, for further research. A few examples of subject encyclopedias are:

  • Encyclopedia of Business and Finance
  • Encyclopedia of Psychology
  • Encyclopedia of Religion
  • Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine
  • McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology

You can search Lumen, the Regis Library Catalog, to locate subject encyclopedias.

Determining Your Information Need

As you focus your topic, you should start to determine what type of information would best suit the needs of your research project.

  • Primary vs. Secondary sources

    Primary sources are the major focus of a subject area or discipline. A newspaper account of a Civil War battle written at the time of the war is an example of a primary source. In literature, an original poem or novel is a primary source. Secondary sources analyze, critique, review, or refute primary sources.
  • Scholarly vs. General Interest sources
    Scholarly sources most often present original research findings, providing more detail and a deeper understanding of the topic. General interest sources are directed at a wider, broad-based, audience.
  • Current vs. Historical information
    Timeliness is an important factor to consider in your research. Is the most recent information essential to your topic? If so, how do you define recent – one year? Five years? Likewise, historical information also needs to be defined. Do you need a first hand account of a historical event or a modern discussion of an earlier event?
  • Factual information
    Dates and definitions are available in subject encyclopedias or dictionaries. Statistical information is available through statistical databases and many government websites, as well as reference books.

Setting Realistic Limits

As you gather information for your research project, set realistic limits for yourself on the amount of information needed for your project. For example, a five-page paper will require much less information to complete than an honors thesis. If you have questions, consult with your professor or contact a reference librarian.