Research Tips and Tricks

Selecting a topic

When you are assigned a research paper, selecting a topic can be one of the hardest things to do. Some tips for selecting a topic are:

  • Pick a topic you are interested in
  • Pick a topic that will help you understand a subject better
  • Pick a topic that has a lot of support behind it. This can be really helpful in avoiding obscure topics that may be hard to research

Your topic should be something that you are confident writing about, and you will most likely start with a massive topic (such as violin music in the 19th century). If you have a broad topic, you have two options. The first, doing a broad survey about the topic. The second, narrowing the topic to something more manageable.

Narrowing your topic

A topic such as violin music in the 19th century encompasses such a large amount of repertoire that it would be extremely difficult to write a succinct paper in your word limit. Some tips for narrowing your topic are:

  • Focusing on a particular aspect of your topic, such as concertos or chamber music
  • Focusing on a particular composer, such as Schumann or late Beethoven
  • Focusing on a particular country or region within your topic, such as German or French violin music

Once you have a narrow topic, you can start looking for materials and resources that will help you compose your paper. Remember, a research paper doesn't always have to be a thesis paper. You can summarize existing literature about a topic, or discuss other's opinions on a topic.

Picking keywords

Keywords are something that can make or break the research process. The correct keywords will help you fast-track your search, and help you find relevant information. Some tips for picking keywords are:

  • Use a variety of broad and narrow terms
  • Remember to use plural and singular forms of words (violin and violins)
  • Think about what your topic is in different languages (violin vs violon)

Once you have a good list of words, think about how to combine them. Using our boolean operators and, or, and not, we can create powerful searches that can help us get to the best results faster.

Where to search

Once we have our topic, we've narrowed it down, and we have some keywords to search with, we can begin to pick a starting point. While it may be tempting to just use Google, we can start our search with resources such as encyclopedias and other reference materials. These resources, such as Oxford Music Online and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, can help make sure you're on the right track, and can give you a launching point for more materials.

To find scholarly articles, you can search in JSTOR and Google Scholar using the keywords we chose earlier. We strongly advise against a general Google search unless you are having a hard time finding material. When using Google, always remember to evaluate your sources using the CRAP method (Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose/Point of View). This will ensure that you are getting the best resources, and filtering out the crappy ones.

Another amazing resource is the Toronto Public Library. The TPL has subscriptions to thousands of journals that may be helpful in your research, as well as countless newspapers and books in their collection. As students in a Toronto institution, you are allowed to sign up for a library card. The nearest branches are at 10 Spadina Road (across from the subway station) and the Toronto Reference Library, just north of Yonge and Bloor. The reference library will have the largest selection of non-fiction books to help you with your research.

The library is always here to help you at any point in your research process. We can help you select a topic, narrow a topic, pick keywords, and find relevant materials for you.

Happy searching!

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