Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

SAC 2021: Getting Started With Your Topic

Welcome to Collins Library

Turning Topics into Research

Part of effective research is figuring out what you’re researching. Often that means taking a BIG topic and turning it into a relatively narrow question that you can then try to answer.

If you already have a research question, you might find that you need to break it down into sub-questions.

Creating a Concept Map

One way to start that process is by creating a concept map.  A concept map is an illustration of the many facts, topics, concepts and ideas that are related to your broad topic. Start by writing down your main idea in the oval below, and then start writing down related ideas, including issues, sub-topics, examples, questions you have, anything and everything you know about it…and things you don’t know!

Ask yourself: Where is this happening? Who is involved? When did it happen? What was the result? What was the cause? How did it happen?


From your concept map pull out specific sub-questions that you might need to answer, and then think about keywords/search terms you might use. Finally, think about where you might search for answers to these questions.  

Sub-question Keywords/Search Terms Where to search?



Searching tips

  • When searching online, remember to do some digging to investigate the credibility of the sources you find and look for bias.
    • Who is behind the website? What’s their agenda? How old is the information? What credentials do the author or organization have?
  • Use encyclopedias & textbooks to get basic information to give you context.
    • Wikipedia counts as an encyclopedia! Use it to learn basic information, then use that information to do more searching.
  • Scholarly journal articles are very reputable sources of information, but are also super specific and technical, and can be hard to use for answering big picture questions. Consider also looking for reputable news & magazine articles which may explain the same topics in more understandable language.

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Eli Gandour-Rood
Office: Collins Library 117

For immediate assistance, click here to be connected with our 24/7 Ask a Librarian chat service.
(253) 879-3678