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DSCI 350M/LIB 350M Humanities Research Data Management

A course guide for Humanities Research Data Management

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This guide has content that is adapted from the following universities & academic libraries

Special thank you to Emily Moore from UO Libraries Special Collections and Archives, and Frida Heitland, DSCI 350M/LIB 350M Winter 2024 Graduate Teaching Assistant, for aiding in the development of this course research guide.

Develop a Research Topic

Develop a Research Topic

Every good research project has a well-defined topic.  Selecting and developing a topic is an ongoing process by which you define and refine your ideas.  You can then focus your research strategies to find relevant and appropriate information.

Before you begin the research process, be sure that you understand:

  • The assignment
  • The purpose
  • The requirements

Research requires planning for sufficient research, thinking, and writing time for the project.  Then define, revise, and refine your work. Expect to read, hear, look, and potentially touch and smell the objects and sources that could be used within your research digital collection project. Remember research is a thinking and critical process.

Step 1 - Select a topic

Picking Your Topic is Research

  • Start with an idea in which you are interested. What do you want to know about?
  • Talk with your class instructor about an idea
  • Ask a librarian for help
  • Do some background reading in a general or specialized encyclopedia, or other reference to gain a better understanding of your topic. This will provide you with an overview and the history of the topic, identify subtopics and related topics, discuss important people and specialized vocabulary in the field, and basic statistics. Browse journals and newspapers for ideas.
  • Do some preliminary searching to see what is available


Watch this short video from NC State University Libraries about choosing a research topic.

Step 2 - Narrow Your Topic

Narrowing a topic is about getting specific. While determining your research topic choosing a specific aspect of the subject, considering video points, and focusing on a time period, geographic location, culture, individual, or group is important to this process.

The basic difference between a broad and narrow topic.

Broad topic: Labor in Oregon

This topic is wide and vast. It focuses on the subject of labor and the state of Oregon. A subject (labor) and location (Oregon) are used.

Narrow topic: Women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950

This topic is more scoped. It's subject is women (demographic) workers (subject) in the state of Oregon (location) between 1930-1950 (time period).

Ways to Narrow Your Topic

Here is a breakdown to help you identify the various aspects for narrowing your topic.

By demographic characteristics 

Narrow it down by age group, occupation, ethnic group, gender, etc.  

e.g. challenges faced by international college graduates entering the workforce

By relevant issues

Try to identify key issues related to your topic, especially ones that you have an opinion on. You can turn your opinion into your thesis statement or research question.

e.g. challenges faced by college graduates who are unable to find meaningful or relevant work 

By location 

Focus on a specific country, province, city, or type of environment (rural vs. urban). 

e.g. challenges faced by college graduates entering the workforce in rural Ontario

By timeframe 

Decide whether you want to study recent events or a historical time period. This will also help you decide how current the information you use must be.

e.g. challenges faced by college graduates entering the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic

By causes

You can take the perspective of looking for causes of an issue you are researching.

e.g. Do employers hire fewer recent college graduates?

When developing a research question, think about: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. The more of these you incorporate the more specific your research question will be.

Watch this short video by the Seneca Polytechnic Library about narrowing down a research topic.

Step 3 - Main Concepts

We're using Women Workers in Oregon from 1930-1950 is our topic. 

Before diving into searching this topic more it's important to brainstorm and think about:

  • State main ideas, concepts, theories
  • List key terms, phrases or vocabulary
  • What are the issues?

Use these queries help you generate questions connected to your topic. Later on this will aid you in searching for resources.

  • Who? - Who were known women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950?
  • What? - What occupations existed for women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950?
  • Why? - Why were women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950? in these professions?
  • Where? - Where were the most common places of employment located for women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950?
  • When? - When did women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950 start and end work?
  • How?  - How did women workers in Oregon between 1930-1950 change the state?


Brainstorming Keywords to Support Your Research

Following along this infographic to learn about the importance for brainstorming keywords. 

Look back your topic and questions. What additional words can be used to describe the terms below. Having many keywords will help you search through library databases, Wikipedia, newspapers, book catalogs, archives, museum collections, and more.

  • women
  • workers
  • occupations
  • employmentInfographic showing a step by step approach to brainstorming keywords

Text description of "From Topic to Question" for web accessibility