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Guide to Starting a Research Project

Step 1: Choose Topic

Ask yourself the following questions

  1. What do I find interesting about the subject?
  2. What do I already know about this topic?

Example 1

  1. Interesting? Van Gogh
  2. What do I know? Dutch painter, painted “Starry Night”

Example 2

  1. Interesting? Frank Lloyd Wright
  2. What do I know? American architect, Taliesin, Fallingwater


  1. Talk to an instructor or librarian
  2. Browse through subject specific journals (ie. Art History, Art Bulletin, Burlington Magazine, Architectural Record)

Step 2: Narrow Topic

Ask yourself the following questions

  1. What do you want to know more about in regards to your topic?
  2. Are you interested in social, political, economic, gender, religious issues related to your topic?
  3. Find a “slant” on your topic.

Example 1

  • Topic = Van Gogh
  • Slant 1 = Landscape Painting
  • Slant 2 = Starry Night
  • Slant 3 = religion

Example 2

  • Topic = Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Slant 1 = Taliesin
  • Slant 2 = Falling Water
  • Slant 3 = Prairie School

Step 3: Look for Angles, Slants, and Sub-Topics

  1. Use encyclopedias (see list below) to find “quick” information on subject.
  2. Use Biographical Dictionaries (see list below) to find “quick” information on artists.
  3. Use this “quick” information to develop a list of “keywords” (Step 4) that will be used to find scholarly resources on your topic.


Step 4: Identify Keywords

Having learned a little more about your topic and chosen a “slant” within your topic, it is now time to brainstorm some keywords that will help you identify scholarly information in journals and books.

You will use these words by themselves and in combination in the Online Library Catalog to search for books and in article databases to search for articles.

Example 1

  • Van Gogh = Topic
  • Slant = landscape painting


  • Van Gogh, Vincent
  • painting
  • landscape
  • art
  • Dutch painters
  • surrealism

Example 2

  • Frank Lloyd Wright = Topic
  • Slant = Fallingwater


  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Architecture
  • Fallingwater
  • Pennsylvania
  • house

Step 5: Find Resources

Use the keywords you have compiled and use them to search for books in the Online Library Catalog or articles in online article databases.

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