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Information Literacy: Guide for Students

HOWLER Videos on Topic Selection


Help Online With Library Education & Research

Topic Selection: What is the Nature of Your Assignment?

What is the Nature of Your Assignment? Image: Pencil icon

Topic Help

Career or Program Related Topics

Often, for classes like Written Communication or for some program-related courses, you will be asked to identify and write about an important issue or challenge in your field. Here are some ways to begin:

1. Browse a professional organization's web site.

See this guide for links to organizations:

2. Browse a trade publication related to your career or program.

We have some in the Libraries in print, however we have many more in our article databases, especially this one:

Image: Logo for Associates Program Source Plus (links to database)

Try a search that is similar to:

Search boxes with diesel motors and job or career or profession as key words

3. Review our Research Guide for Written Communication

Image: Page view of Written Comm research guide's topic selection page

What's the Assignment?

Often, instructors will require you to research a topic that fits a given theme. For example, for an English 1 class you are asked to write about a topic related to an environmental issue. Now you have several choices for exploring for a specific topic: (you can also explore the videos on the left!)

1. Search Credo Reference,

which contains nearly 800 full-text searchable specialized, college-level reference books. To begin, try a topic search:

Credo Cold War topic search

Once you do, you'll find a summary entry that will provide context and background:

Cold War topic page in Credo

The next step is to browse the 'Related Topics' index for a subtopic that could be of interest to you:

Image: List of topics related to the larger theme of the 'cold war'

If there isn't a good idea in the list, look for a 'See More' link. Or, try clicking around on the links to find another topic related to those listed. Hopefully one of these will be of help.

2.Browse the Opposing Viewpoints Issues Index

And notice it has a dropdown for categories of issues.

Image: Opposing Viewpoints Browse issues index

3. Explore the web!

We suggest trying a Google Advanced Search (look for this symbol after you search: Image: Google gear (options) icon) You will have more options for searching. Enter some terms you associate with your research theme:

Image: Google advanced search

Researching a Topic You Know:

Especially early in the semester, faculty might assign you a paper that asks you to explore a topic with which you have some familiarity. Perhaps you will also be asked to add to that knowledge by consulting other sources. 

On occasion, some students resist the idea that they need to explore beyond what they already know about a topic. However, as an emerging writer, college research means reviewing what is known about a topic, collecting relevant detail and examples, and sharing and acknowledging the work of experts and journalists.

Statistics and Fact Checking

Image: Generic graph showing data trends

Although you might very well know important facts about your topic, your writing will be helped by including data, expert opinion, and corroborated facts that you reference in your papers.

Other good websites:

Image: How Stuff Works Logo

This is a great site for explaining complex systems and providing technical descriptions.

Find reliable, credible background information:

Credo Reference is an excellent alternative to Wikipedia. This collection of online, published reference resources provides access for students to nearly 800, highly specialized e-books. Give it a try, but if you have questions, let a librarian know!

Credo Logo

Finding News? How hard can that be?

Certainly try the web to search for news on a topic, or even browse a topic for news coverage. If you have trouble, it might make sense to try some of the Library Database options below.

Websites for exploring news options:

Local News Sites: Madison, Wisconsin & State of Wisconsin

Library Databases for News Content

Many of our databases index and provide access to the full text of articles for many current publications. Often, with a bit of practice, it is easier to find relevant news content through databases than it is to find them on the web. Databases also provide both text-to-speech capabilities and automatic citation generation.