Narrowing Your Research Topic and Searching for Sources

This tutorial shares strategies for narrowing wide research topics, and using advanced search features to pinpoint documents within your In Context resources.

Hi, my teacher gave me an assignment.

He wants me to do something on an important event

in world history and explain why it's important.

I know what I want to do.

I want to do it on World War II.

Great, let's go to World History In Context.

This resource has magazines, journals,

books and newspapers.

How long is the paper?

Five pages.

And I need at least five sources.

Well, World War II is a pretty big event.

You're going to have to narrow your topic

if you're only writing five pages.

I know, but how?

I have some ideas.

Let's do a basic search on World War II.

In the search box, key in the words World War II.

Notice how it suggests terms as you type.

We have a topic page here on World War II.

You'll find an overview, featured content

selected by editors, links to reference

and primary source content,

and here, newspapers, journals, magazines,

video, images and audio.

That's a lot of stuff.

But how do I narrow my topic?

Click on the title of the reference section.

This is where the encyclopedia articles are.

But there are hundreds of articles here.

I don't have time to look at all these.

It's almost as bad as Google.

Scroll down the page a little.

Notice on the right side of the page,

you can limit your results by subject.

You can also limit by document type.

Let's try to limit our list by subject.

Click the View More link at the end

of the subject section to see all of the subject terms.

Subject terms are headings that are attached

to each article.

Like tags when you label a story

that you see online, or a tweet or something?


You can use this feature to help you limit your topic.

You can also use it to get ideas.

For example, maybe you can focus on World War II

in the concentration camps.

Or maybe you could look at military operations

in World War II.

You know, I was thinking

about researching concentration camps.

Now we've limited your search results list

to just articles on concentration camps.

Ooh, here's an article on concentration camps

and whether or not the allies should've bombed them

during the war.

That's interesting.

Great, so now you've narrowed your topic.

Maybe you can use this article in your paper.

Yeah, but I only have this one article

on the topic.

What you can do now

is use the Advanced Search.

Instead of only searching for articles

on World War II, like we did in the basic search,

let's also search for articles on concentration camps

and bombings together.

First, we'll put the search term, concentration camps,

on one line.

Make sure the keyword search option is selected.

There are a lot of options.

Yes, you're right, there are a lot of them.

So I would try to remember just to key a few.

A keyword search looks for your search term

in the tile and the first paragraph of every article.

Let's try one.

Like this one here.

The words concentration camps occur in the title

in this first paragraph.

Let's go back and look at some of the other search options.

The subject search looks for those tags

we talked about in each article

and only those tags.

Remember those?

Yeah, absolutely.

The other one you'll want to remember

is the entire document search.

This looks at every single word of every single article

in your search term.

Oh, that's good.

I wanna do that.

(chuckles) Well, let's be careful with that.

There are millions of articles in here

and you'll get a huge list of results

from that kind of search.

Now since we wanna search for two of our terms together,

let's put the search term, bombing, on the next line.

If you use the connector and, you will get articles

that have both terms in one article.

If you change it to or, you will get articles

that have either one or the other in them.

Okay, that makes sense.

Now, see, you're getting articles

on just the bombing of concentration camps.

Yeah, and it tells me up here what I did.

By the way, my professor also said

that I need some primary source documents.

You can also find

primary source documents in here.

Let's return to the Advanced Search page.

Let's enter your search term concentration camps

and then check Primary Sources,

since we only want articles

that are primary source documents.

If you wanna get more specific,

you can select just diaries or just letters

in the Document Type section.

Here, you'll find every document type

found in this library resource.

This is great.

I'm sure I'll find enough for my paper.

Use Advanced Search

to conduct complex searches,

like searches for multiple terms

or by content type or document type.

And remember that you can always narrow the results list.

This may help you narrow you research topic,

since all of these In Context resources work the same way,

you're going to find the same features I've just shown you.