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Criminal Justice Senior Seminar: Developing a Topic

Developing Your Topic

To properly focus your topic on a research question, you first need to understand what is known and believed about your topic, in other words, the scholarly consensus on your topic. Begin with reference sources, such as encyclopedia articles, textbooks, surveys in books and articles, informational web sites, and statistics. Make a note of any questions or unresolved issues about the topic. These may make good research questions!

Focus on a Research Question

Research on a college level is not the compiling and regurgitating of information that papers in the past were, they are about investigation, about finding the answers to questions.  Your research should answer a question, your research question, thesis statement or hypothesis.  Your topic should be stated in the form of a question that directs your research.  Getting to a focused thesis takes a few steps where a broad subject is broken into more focused topics which in turn are whittled down to form a research question.  You often have to start at the broad base of the subject to get to a focused research question.

Searching for Your Topic

Online Reference Sources

Boolean Searching

Boolean Searching using AND, OR & NOT for better s

For more help using Boolean Searching See the LibGuide Boolean Searching

Subject Headings

Natural language searching is searching in full sentences or phrases, like you would ask a person "how many feet in a yard?".  Natural language is how most people search Google and other search engines, but this type of searching will not work well with Library Databases or the Catalog. Keyword searching is searching using individual words often taken from the key ideas in a Natural Language search.  Keyword searching in databases usually searches the entire record or full text for your terms and will allow for a large number of results.  Seemingly irrelevant results occur when your key word is found deep within a record. Using common words in a Keyword search will result in an overwhelming number of results by adding additional Keywords a search can become more focused. Subject searches use specific predefined or "controlled vocabulary".  Each database creates a customized list (aka a thesaurus) of words that are used to tag similar information, while the library catalog uses the Library of Congress subject headings.  By using Subject assigned terms you will be able to find materials that may use historic terms, synonyms, regional spellings and other variations of a topic.  Subject searches look only in the Subject Heading or descriptor field for those specific terms.  If you do not know specific Subject terms, you will not get effective results.  Often you can discover the Subject terms from the results of a Keyword search. The catalog and databases often have subject terms linked for quick searching.