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Into the Field: Effective Library Research: Identify Key Research Concepts

Online tutorial introducing you to the skills and techniques needed for effective library research

Getting Started: understanding your research topic


Before you can get your research underway, you need to have a good understanding of your research topic so that you can scope out exactly which research questions, concepts and issues you will address in your dissertation. 

This will help you keep focused so that you target your searching appropriately and decide which kinds of materials and search results are worth examining in more detail. 




Use your Research Concepts: Mapping Worksheet to start mapping out your research concepts.

Do some brainstorming to think around your topic and do some internet searching to prompt ideas. 

You can follow this up with more background reading in books, reference sources later. 


Start with some background reading 
If you are not sure where to start, then some background reading should help you get underway. Start by looking at broad themes and topics, looking at resources like textbooks, subject dictionaries and encyclopaedias that examine larger background concepts, before narrowing your search to look for specific research and articles in your area of study. 
A general internet search can help too - but remember to evaluate the information you find - more on that later!

Background reading can also help you to identify key authors and texts (whose bibliographies you can use to generate further ideas). If you find a really useful article, you could mine that for all sorts of other useful related material. 

For example:

  • Has the author written additional material on the topic?

  • Does the article have useful keywords or subject terms you can use for further research?

  • Does the article have references or a bibliography you can use to explore related material?

  • Does the article link you through to other related material? 

Useful starting points for exploring your research topic in textbooks and reference works are:

Map out your research concepts / themes /key writers


An important part of the planning process is scoping out the topic areas that you are researching.  It can help to do some brain storming to map out the main topics/concepts you will be looking at.

Mind mapping can be a useful way of capturing these concepts, themes and sub themes - but use whatever technique works best for you.

Ask yourself questions to help you start thinking around your topic, such as;

  • Are there particular themes I want to concentrate on? 
  • Are there particular works or writers I want to critique? 
  • Are there key works that I wish to analyse in detail?

Break your research topic down in to a number of smaller sub topics and address those in turn, before bringing everything together to answer your overarching research query.

This process will help you develop your understanding of exactly what it is you are going to be looking at as you will need to think around your broad topic and start exploring the connections between various sub topics and themes.

As you move through your research you may wish to refresh your scoping exercise in order to encompass new areas you discover as you begin to explore the literature or to close off particular avenues of research that you considered at the outset.

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