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Illinois Tech Library Guides

Research Tutorial for Distance Learners: Identifying Your Topic

Identifying your topic

When choosing a topic for a class assignment or research paper, choose one that:

  • is of interest to you
  • is relevant to the assignment
  • you can adequately cover given the constraints of the assignment


Once you start generating topic ideas, write them down along with any related ideas or keywords. You can use these concepts and keywords to search the Internet and some of the library's databases to help you refine your topic. If your topic is too broad you will find more information during your preliminary search than you could possibly use. On the other hand, if your topic is too narrow you will have difficulty finding enough information to assist you with your assignment. If you need help refining your topic, contact a librarian.

Read These Tips Before You Start

Librarians often find themselves repeating the same research tips when they meet with students and faculty.  Taking a few minutes to read this list of helpful hints could save you tons of time when you are searching.

1. Always start from the library website or this guide when you want to access a database.  Most databases need to know that you are authorized to access their materials.  When you go to a database's web site it will not be able to identify that you are an approved user.  When you go through an IIT library page you will be able to authenticate correctly and use the database right away.

2. Spend a few minutes test driving a database you've never used before.  Check out the help guides, try a few searches, and see how this database may be different from ones you've used before. 

3. Most databases don't search the way Google searches.  Entering a long phrase such as "how computer automation is used in federal government" in one search box doesn't usually work in a database.  Check the database's help section to learn how to best search that particular database.

3. There is no one perfect search.  Try many searches in many places to find what you are looking for.

4. Take advantage of any "folders" or "lists" available in the database or library catalog.  Use these to keep track of articles or books you will want to read later.  The URL at the top of the page is often a session-specific URL, meaning it will only work that one time. 

5. Does the library not have immediate access to the article or book you want?  We can get you nearly every book or article you want to read using our I-Share catalog for books or MyILL for articles.  These are fast and free services.  Use the box above to create your accounts so you can begin requesting items.

6. Please let us know when you are having any troubles from choosing the best databases to fixing a dead link.  We can't help or fix it if we don't know there's a problem.  See our Ask a Librarian page to contact us by IM, email, phone or in person.

Subject Guide

Nichole Novak's picture
Nichole Novak
Contact:
Paul V. Galvin Library
35 W. 33rd St.
Chicago, IL 60616
312.567.3613

Questions?

Get help from the Research Help Office (upper level of the library):

phone: (312) 567-3616

email: library@iit.edu