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Honors Program

Developing your topic/question

  When developing your topic or research question, ask yourself: 

  • Is there enough available information on my topic? Do some exploratory searching first, using the internet and the Library's 'Search Everything'. If you need assistance, Ask a librarian.
  • What am I truly interested in, what do I really want to learn about?
  • Who else will be interested in this research? The topic should be of interest not only to you but to others, too.
  • Is the scope so broad I will lose direction? If so, how can I narrow it down? Again, you can consult a librarian for suggestions.

In the early stages, you may find it helpful to write your topic as a title and include a brief description and how it could be developed, to define your ideas and plot a course of action. Although your research topic or aspects of it may change, it's still useful to record your thoughts in the form of a 'log,' to remind yourself of how the topic has evolved and to help you avoid retracing your steps.

While thinking about research topics:

  • let your previous work or experience guide you
  • browse the literature, especially journals in your field, and read, read, read!
  • discuss ideas with your professor/mentor -- he/she is an expert within their discipline and can help you decide on an appropriate topic
  • keep in mind that topics are not fully formed at the start but take shape as you research them


To search for more relevant or non-commercial results, limit your search by domain, for example .edu, .org, .gov, .net. Enter your keywords followed by the command site:[domain].

For example, if your topic was "how can the effect of wind turbines on birds and other wildlife be minimized?," you could type:

birds wildlife wind turbines site:gov

Google Web Search

Using primary and secondary sources

    Secondary sources provide an overview of your topic/question. Use them to get started.

When you locate a relevant primary source, carefully read the description of the study's methods, results, discussion, and conclusions. Determine if the source pertains to your topic/question and how it helps you answer your question or part of your question. Don't forget to scan the study's bibliography to identify more sources, too!

Secondary sources:

  • Include reference books, trade books, literature reviews (e.g., in Annual Reviews)
  • Provide a broad perspective on a topic or a synthesis of ideas about a topic and have bibliographies of relevant sources
  • Used in addition to primary literature, not in place of.
  • Often refer to information from primary sources. Be careful! Don't cite a primary source unless you have found and read it!

Primary sources:

  • Include articles from scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. Some disciplines also consider conference proceedings to be primary sources. Check with your mentor.
  • These are original research studies, and they are what you'll be expected to base your work on. 
  • Like secondary sources, they contain information about other sources consulted for their research. Do NOT refer to a study that you read ABOUT in a primary source, only refer to those you read yourself.

To learn more, view Primary and Secondary Literature in the Sciences or Historiography: Primary Sources. Ask a librarian for assistance too.

'General' databases

Try broad searches in these databases to explore a topic or browse by subject.

Consult these Guides too:

Subject Librarians

Information Literacy Instruction

Off-Campus Access

Interlibrary Loan

Chronicle of Higher Education

Reserves/Fair Use

Ask Us

Research Consultations

Renew Books Online

Request a Purchase


Open Computers

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PA Resident Cards

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