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Finding Resources for your Research

Understanding your Assignment & Topic Development

What is the main goal of your research paper?  Do you need to research two opposing viewpoints?  Write a persuasive argument?  Are you required to write a reference question or thesis statement?

(hint: read the assignment provided by your instructor!)

Research Question or Thesis Statement?

Question markA research question is the main question you are trying to answer with your research.  It is helpful to think of your initial question as a draft.  Developing a research question takes time, and your question may change during the course of your research.   


How do female managers' work-life balance decisions affect their opportunities for promotion to upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 IT companies?

exclamation pointYour assignment may require you to write a thesis statement. The main difference between a thesis statement and a research question is that the thesis statement begins with a claim that your research seeks to validate or prove.  


Female managers encounter a glass ceiling in upper-level management positions in Fortune 500  IT companies.

Topic Ideas & Background Information

Whether your topic is preassigned or you have been given complete freedom in choosing a topic to research, you will often need to consult some preliminary sources to come up with topic ideas or gather background information. The following are recommended reference sources and databases that cover hot topics and current events. 


Reference Sources

Reference sources are great for getting a quick overview of a topic, as well as finding key names, dates, terms, and subtopics. The following databases contain general and subject specific encyclopedias.  You can search and read entries from thousands of sources.   

For a complete list of online library reference sources go to the A to Z Database list, click the dropdown menu All Database Types, and select Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Handbooks & Indexes


Hot Topics & Current Events 

What's in the news?  What are some topics that are trending?  The following databases can give you a quick overview of a topic, as well as outlining current viewpoints and arguments.  


In-depth coverage of a topic: Monographs (academic books)

Academic books are also a good resource, providing in-depth coverage of a topic.  You can consult particular chapters or sections of a book when developing your research question/thesis.  SDSU library has a large collection of both print and eBooks.  Checkout this guide on searching for books and eBooks

3 Methods to Narrow & Focus Your Topic

Is your topic too vague?  Too broad? There are several methods to help you narrow and focus your research.  Explore the following three methods to develop a focused research question or thesis statement.  

Method 1: Ask Questions
  • What is your topic? (i.e. social media, plastic waste, freedom of speech, sleep deprivation)
  • What is the context of your research? (school, hospital, community)
  • What do you want to achieve? (to discover, explore, explain, or compare)
  • What is the nature of your question? (is it a who, what, where, when, how, or why question)
  • Are there potential relationships between variables that you want to explore? (causes, correlations, increases, decreases)
Method 2: Use a Topic Development Chart
Brainstorm ideas by writing 2-3 terms in one or more of the columns (hint: this will help you to come up with search terms later). 
Broad topic:
Artificial intelligence






Time Period




Other ideas

(events, social issues)

Search engine algorithms


Facial recognition technology


Social media







African Americans



Now (current)


Early 2000s

United States









Racial inequality




Political polarization

Focused research questions: 
Does facial recognition technology perpetuate racial inequality?
What can be done about the negative effects of social media on teenage girls?

Method 3: Try a Mind Map

You can draw your own, or explore the interactive mind maps on the Credo Reference database. 

Watch out for these common pitfalls when developing a research question/thesis:
  • Too narrow: a question that is so narrowly focused that there is probably no literature to be found on the topic- or very little. 
  • Too broad: a question that is so broad it would be impossible to cover in depth in one research paper.
  • Too vague/unclear: use of words like 'good' or 'bad' in your research question. It should be clear what exactly you are asking.  
  • Easily searchable: a simple google search gives you the answer.  Avoid questions that can be easily answered with one word, a number, or a list. 
  • Matter of opinion: a question that cannot be answered in some objective manner.