Research 101: Health Sciences
Indentify and Develop the Topic
Selecting a topic for a research paper is a most difficult matter. If you have the option of
selecting to choose your own, always make it a subject that interests you. Satisfying
your curiosity makes the work much more enjoyable. You may already know a great deal
about the topic.
However, it is necessary for you to "think through" the different aspects of your research
while gathering materials and writing the paper. Is your topic too broad or is it too
narrow? Are there adequate resources available to you in order to develop the topic? Is
there enough time to develop this topic into the paper for your class?
Step 1. State precisely the subject to be explored. Test yourself to see what you already know
about the topic. Create a list of words that you feel are relevant to your research interest. The
more you can focus your thoughts the easier the research will be.
Writing a paper about “diabetes” is much too broad a concept.
A PubMed search for "diabetes" will return over 360,000 records.
A CINAHL search for "diabetes" will return over 54,000 records.
Writing about “insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” is better but still too broad.
A PubMed search for "diabetes mellitus AND insulin-dependent" will return over 24,000 records.
A CINAHL search for "diabetes mellitus AND insulin-dependent" will return over 20,000 records.
Writing about “insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and the aged over 65” is focusing more. But,
it’s still too broad.
A PubMed search for "diabetes mellitus AND insulin-dependent AND aged over 65" returns over
A CINAHL search for "diabetes mellitus AND insulin-dependent AND aged over 65" returns over
? Step 2. State the topic as a question. You are writing about this
topic for a reason. It's either your own interest or something
your professor feels that you should know. Focus your thoughts by
determining what is the information that you want to learn from the
research. Construct questions that ask "What do I want to know
about this topic?"
? Here are a few examples based on the searches above:
How do the elderly cope with insulin-dependence on their own?
Does “self-care” give the insulin-dependent elderly a sense of
empowerment over their disease?
What are the social implications of insulin-dependence for
Step 3. Refine your ideas about the topic. Ask yourself, "What type of
information do I need for this topic?" Once you have formulated a topic
question or proposition you can determine the type of information that
you will need.
Case Report (or series) - "descriptive study of a group of people,
usually receiving the same treatment or with the same disease."
Clinical Practice Guideline - "systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and
patient making decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances."
Evidence-based Medicine - articles that reflect "the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of
current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients"
Technical Report - documents that describe the process, progress, and or results of technical
or scientific research or the state of a technical or scientific research problem.
Step 4. Focus your ideas by asking yourself, "Where would I find information
for this topic?"
In the Library? Are there books, journals or media that I need?
In a Library database? Are there e-books, e-journals or other resources
available on-line through the Library's website?
On the Internet? Are there websites that have important and reliable
information about this topic?
Ask this question to a librarian or your professor. They can guide you to the best
This publication created by
Mark D. Puterbaugh
Information Services Librarian
Warner Memorial Library
Friday, September 24, 2010