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Course & Subject Guides

2021 Katz Research and Library Introduction - Oakland Campus

Use this guide to learn about key library resources and services available at Pitt for Master of Science Students

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic is one of the first things you need to do when researching.

If you have a list of suggested paper topics, look through the list and see if any in particular stand out to you. What sounds interesting? What do you want to learn more about? If not, scan your textbook lecture notes, and the news for topic ideas.


Tip: Pick a few topics you want to explore further and then find background information and refine your topic to see if you want to continue down that path. If not, try out a different topic until you find one you like.

Background Research

Once you've picked a topic(s) that sounds interesting, start learning more about it. Try the following:

  • Search Google and see what comes up
    • Get a summary from Wikipedia
  • Look for recent news articles to learn about current events
  • Talk with classmates, professors, and professionals about your topic ideas
  • Search library databases that focus on background information, such as the following:

Tip: This information is not meant to support your arguments or form the bulk of your assignment. Instead it is to help you learn more about your topic so you are ready to do more in-depth research.

Refine Topic

Even once you have decided what topic you want to pursue, you will likely need to refine your topic.

Try asking yourself the 5 W's: Who, What, When, Where, Why

  • Who
    • Who is involved? Whom does it affect? Do you want to focus on a specific population or group?
  • What
    • What are you focused on? What is the issue or problem? Why should it matter to others?
  • When
    • When did this topic originate? What is happening now? Do you want to focus on a specific time period?
  • Where
    • Where did important events occur? Where are you focused?
  • Why
    • Why is this topic important? Why are you interested in it?

Start thinking about what specifically you want to investigate or argue.

Tip: It is okay to have multiple ideas or directions you wish to pursue. Make sure you keep an open mind and are willing and able to modify your topic as you continue researching.

Create Research Question

Creating a research question will take your refined topic and turn it into a question your assignment will attempt to answer. Examples of research questions include:

  • What causes incorrect information to spread on social media?
  • How can we be informed social media users?

This will help keep you focused as you begin searching for information.

Tip: When you are evaluating your sources, you'll want to check that the source will help answer this question, in other words, its relevancy.