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Library Basics: Topics & Brainstorming

How to get started

Picking a topic can sometimes be the most difficult part of a research project, but it doesn't have to be. You've likely done a lot of brainstorming in your academic lives so far. Here are a few different strategies and ways to troubleshoot your process if you're stuck. Below you'll see some strategies like freewriting, list making, and concept mapping and a way to start with those. The bottom box has examples of what those could look like. On the right, you'll see some tips to address specific problems you might encounter.

Brainstorming strategies

Try out these brainstorming strategies: 1.	Freewriting – Set a timer for 10 minutes.  Think about your topic for a little while and then while your timer runs, write down everything that comes to mind, without worrying about spelling, grammar or structure. Look back over your writing and highlight useful ideas, questions, or insights. 2.	Concept Mapping – Concept maps help you visually organize ideas and make connections. Start by writing your broad topic in the center of a black piece of paper.  Write out related ideas and detail around the central topic. Use lines and arrows to draw connections between ideas.  Add details, sub topics, and questions, as you continue to build your web.  3.	Asking questions – One a black piece of paper, write out the words who, what, when, where, why, and how. For each word, write 2-3 questions beginning with that word. This is a helpful strategy when you don’t have much prior knowledge on your topic.  You can use the questions you wrote to get started finding sources. 4.	Listing – What words pop into your head when you think about your topic? This activity is similar to freewriting, but instead of writing a paragraph, you will instead write a list of words and phrases. Write down as many words or phrases as possible. Your list could include synonyms, places, people, related topics, descriptors, facts, numbers, or whatever else you can think of. Then look over your list and check for patterns or ways to categorize those thoughts.


Brainstorming ideas--examples

Encyclopedia databases

Encyclopedias are a great place to look for background information about your topic before digging a little deeper.