Situating your topic
When starting with a broad topic in mind, it can be a good idea to take a few minutes to brainstorm ideas around your topic. What are some broader concepts that encompass your starting topic? What are some narrower concepts that your topic itself encompasses? By taking a few minutes to do this, you'll generate a wealth of useful keywords for searching library catalogs and databases.
- Take a blank sheet of paper and write your topic in a word or phrase in the middle (don't write too big!). For this exercise, I might write Ancient Greek Music.
- Now, above that, think of at least three broader terms or concepts. One way to think about it is "what kind of book would have a chapter on my topic?" For my example, I might start with ancient Greek culture, and the history of music.
- Below your original word or phrase, now think of three or more narrower terms or concepts. You might think "in a book on my topic, what might some of the chapter titles be?" Or take your original topic and make it more specific by adding another topic. So in my example, I'd start with ancient Greek musical instruments or the use of music in Greek tragedy.
- Lastly, return to your original topic words. Are there other near-synonyms that you haven't considered? Are there other ways of phrasing your topic? For mine, I'd think about classical instead of ancient and Greece instead of Greek. Computers are dumb, so if you don't match the exact string of letters it has, you won't get a hit.
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