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wikiHow to Research a Topic

Two Parts:Getting StartedResearching In-Depth

Knowing how to research is a much needed skill and it's really not that hard. It can seem overwhelming with all the different sources and citation guides, but don't worry! Pretty soon you'll be a master at researching.

Part 1
Getting Started

  1. Image titled Research a Topic Step 01
    Identify your research topic. Sometimes you get to pick a topic and sometimes your teacher or professor assigns you a topic. Even so, you usually still get to pick your angle of focus. Pick an idea you find interesting and go from there.
    • In the beginning stages you don't need to have your topic super focused. A basic idea of what you're looking for is fine. As you do more research you'll narrow it down.
    • For example: If you're researching Shakespeare's Hamlet, you can start with just looking into information about Hamlet before you narrow it down to focus on, say, the importance of madness in Hamlet.
  2. Image titled Research a Topic Step 02
    Understand the assignment. There are a variety of things you need to understand about your assignment before you start researching. How much information do you need? If you're typing a 10 page report, then you'll need more information than a 5 paragraph essay. What information do you need?[1]
    • If the assignment is a research paper, you're going to need facts rather than opinions about the topic, especially if it is a research paper about a scientific topic like depression.
    • If you're writing a persuasive essay or creating a persuasive presentation you'll need your own opinions and facts to support those opinions. It's a good idea to include opposing opinions so you can address and/or debunk them.
    • If you're writing an analysis piece, such as the importance of madness in Hamlet, you're going to be using your opinions on the piece in question, as well as opinions of scholars who have worked with the text and information about madness in Shakespeare's time and Elizabethan literary conventions.
  3. Image titled Research a Topic Step 03
    Determine the types of information you'll need. This includes things like the format of the material, how important time is to your topic, how important place and languages are to your topic. Do you need facts, opinions, analyses, or research studies, or a mixture?
    • Think about the format of the material. Are you going to find the best information in a book, or a journal, or a newspaper? If you're doing medical research you'll probably need to look in a medical journal, whereas research Hamlet will need books and articles in literary periodicals.
    • Consider whether your information needs to be up-to-date (like medical or scientific discoveries) or whether you can use sources that were written in the 1900s. If you're looking at history, do you need specific documents from your time period?
  4. Image titled Research a Topic Step 04
    Do preliminary research. When you're starting out it's best to do some basic, over-view type of research. This will help give you ideas for a potential focus for your topic. Stick to broad sources that give an overview of the work.[2]
    • If you have a course textbook look at the bibliography at the back of the book. This can give you some basic overview ideas for research material.
    • Look through sources like the Oxford Dictionary of X (your topic), or the Cambridge Companion to X. Reference sources and books (like encyclopedias) are great places to start getting your basic information.
    • Make sure that you take notes on things that interest you about the topic, because you can choose from your notes what how you will narrow the focus on your topic.

Part 2
Researching In-Depth

  1. Image titled Research a Topic Step 05
    Narrow your research focus. Once you have your preliminary research completed you'll need to narrow the focus of your topic. If you have a bunch of different information on Hamlet, instead of trying to cram it all into a 10-page essay, tease out your favorite angle (like the importance of madness).
    • The narrower the focus, the easier it will be to find relevant research material. This means coming up with a specific thesis statement that says what exactly you are trying to argue or research.
    • It's okay if you need to adjust your focus as you research if you find something that disproves or changes your thesis.
  2. Image titled Research a Topic Step 06
    Access academic sources. You'll need to look at valid research sources and you'll need to evaluate those materials as you research. While the internet can be useful for research, it is particularly difficult to evaluate the validity of the information it provides. Always remember to record your research and where you found it.[3]
    • Look for books through WorldCat[4]. It will show you if your library has the books you need and it will give you ideas for books for your research topic. Usually you can borrow books through your university or library (through programs like ILLiad).
    • Look into databases like EBSCOHost, or JSTOR for a variety of articles about different topics.
    • Try to find academic and trade journals on your topic, or government reports, legal documents. You can even use radio and t.v. broadcasts, or interviews and lectures.
    • Many databases are divided up by subject, so you can type in your research topic and see what articles and suggestions come up. Try to be as specific as possible when you're putting in research topics. So don't just look up "Hamlet," but look up things like "Hamlet and madness" or something like "Elizabethan views on madness."
  3. Image titled Research a Topic Step 07
    Evaluate your sources. It can be difficult when you're researching (especially on the internet) to find and make sure you have credible research material. You'll need to pay attention to who is making the claims in your sources, where they get their information, how much is it supported by other scholars in the field.[5]
    • Make sure that your sources clearly indicate the author(s) and who the author is affiliated with.
    • Is the author offering facts or opinions? And are these facts and opinions clearly substantiated with further research and citations. Do these citations link to credible sources (universities, research facilities, etc.). Cross-check the information provided and see if it can be backed.
    • If the author uses vague or sweeping generalizations without any information to back them up (example: "Madness was despised in Elizabethan times"), or if the arguments are completely one-sided without acknowledging other opinions and viewpoints, it's probably not a good research source.
  4. Image titled Research a Topic Step 08
    Organize your information. Once you feel you've done enough research, organize the information you've gathered. This will help give your final paper or essay or project a form, so you know where and how the information is going to be used. It's also a good way to see if you have any gaps in knowledge that you need to plug.
    • Make sure that you've come to a definite result or conclusion about your research topic. If you haven't, you'll need to do some more research.[6]
  5. Image titled Research a Topic Step 09
    Cite your sources. Once you're finished with your research topic (be it essay, paper, or project) you'll need to cite your sources. Different courses and disciplines have different ways of citing so make sure you use the correct citation method for your discipline or course.[7]
    • APA tends to be the social sciences like psychology, or education.
    • MLA format tends to be literature, arts, and the humanities.
    • AMA tends to be used for medicine, health, and the biological sciences.
    • Turabian was designed for college students to use with all subjects, but is one of the lesser known formats. You can use this one if you aren't sure which to use.
    • Chicago style is used with all subjects in the "real world" by books, magazines, newspapers, and other non-scholarly publications.


  • Remember the five things to look for for a good website — Currency, Authority, Purpose, Objectivity, and Writing style.
  • Your school or city library probably has many books on your topic.
  • Trustworthy websites often end in .gov or .edu. Websites that need to be evaluated often end in .net, .org, or .com.


  • Before you write down a topic, think: is this interesting and relevant?
  • If your project is in another language, don't use Google Translate because Google Translate also makes mistakes and lots of people have failed due to these big mistakes by a few translators.
  • If you don't cite your sources, that is called plagiarism, which is wrong and illegal. It is giving yourself credit for something another has done. That's why it's so important to cite your sources.

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Categories: Research and Review