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Communication 1307 - Mercado, Luis: Mass Communications

Print and Broadcast Media - The Information Cycle

Beginning your research

Know your Assignment

Decide on a topic

Do an initial search of library and web resources

Turn your topic into a research question

Develop search strategy & identify keywords

Know Your Assignment

The first step fo the research process is to know the assignment and what guidelines/requirements the professor has given. Take note of the following:

  • Topic: Have you been assigned a topic for you to write about or can you choose a subject of interest to you, which fits into the guidelines of the assignment. 
  • Type of research: What type of research is needed? Do you need original research (such as survey or experiment) or are you able to use secondary research (such as research published in books/journal articles)?
  • Scope: Do you need to analyze a topic from different viewpoints or do you need to take one position and defend it?
  • Sources: Are you required to use a certain number and/or type of resources in your research?
  • Citation Style: Has the professor, specified a citation style for you to use in citing your sources? If not, which style is appropriate for your subject?
  • Format/Length: Is there a page limit for the completed assignment? Has formatting guidelines, such as line spacing, numbering, or font size been given?
  • Due date: When is your paper due? 

What makes a good topic?

A good topic is:

  • Broad enough that you can find enough information on the subject.
  • Focused enough that you are not overwhelmed with too much information. 
  • Interesting to you

Keep in mind, good research takes time and effort.

Initial Library Resources Check

It is always good to brainstorm about your topic before jumping into a library or internet resource search. Your text book as well as the library's online reference collection and a review of library books available on your topic can help provide a good overview of your topic.

Turn your topic into a question

Creating a research question can help to focus your research. What about your topic do you want to research? What aspects of the subject interest you?

Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

When choosing a topic to research, there are a few key aspects to keep in mind:


  • Pick a topic you are interested in. If you aren't interested in it, you probably won't get very far in the research process.
  • Pick a topic that is of interest within your class. Try to make sure that you are focusing on your field or dicipline.

Broad vs. Narrow

  • It can be tempting to pick a topic that is broad and seems easy to research. Keep in mind that sometimes these broad topics come with hidden pitfalls, and can be difficult to research due to the amount of information about them.  For example, a topic that is too broad might be: "The Environment".  This is too broad because it encompasses everything in the natural world.
  • If you narrow down your topic too far, you may have a problem finding sources during your research. Try to make sure that your topic is broad enough to do research on. For example, a topic that is too narrow might be:  "The water quality of the river between San Antonio and Floresville"; while you might find a resource to answer this question you won't find enough sources to write a complete research paper.
  • To strike a happy medium between broad and narrow, try picking a specific angle, section, or aspect of a broad topic, or looking at how a narrow topic is influenced by other factors, or how it influences other factors in your field. An example might be: "What are the effects of agriculture on water quality in the United States?"

The "W" Questions

  • Who: Who are you talking about? Why should the reader know about them?  Who is the individual or select population you are interested in?
  • What: Describes a specific aspect or element that directly impacts the who.
  • WhenAre you interested in a specific time frameWhen did the majority of research on your topic get published (especially important in the sciences)? 
  • Where: Are there specific places where your topic takes place or influences?
  • Why: Why is your topic being researched? Is it an important, urgent issue? Why do you like your topic? Why do you want to do research on it? What about it is interesting to you?
  • How: How will you phrase your thesis or research question? How will you focus your topic?

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Revised with permission: University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Search Strategy/Identify Keywords

Determine your Search Strategy by looking at your research question/topic statement and identify keywords and concepts. The Keywords will help you when you begin searching library resources.

Using a search strategy

  • will save you time and energy.
  • will make it easier for someone else to understand your research process.
  • will help you to remain consistent in your search from one resource to another.

Identify the keywords 

  • review your research question.
  • review common terms from an initial library/web search
  • identify synonyms and words related to topic
  • record assigned subjects/subject headings that relate to your key words
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