Skip to Main Content

Research Tips: Getting Started

Basic tips for getting started with research: refining a topic, finding information, additional help.

Choosing a topic

  • Start thinking about your topic as early as possible. If you've got the seed of a topic planted in your mind, ideas will start to come as you're thinking and reading about other things.
  • Choose something you are interested in.
  • Do some preliminary research and background reading to get ideas.
  • Discuss your potential topic with your instructor.
  • Read your assignment guidelines closely.

Finding Background Information

Sometimes you don't know enough about your topic yet to refine it, and a little background reading can help.

  • Find definitions, quick facts and straightforward explanations of key concepts in encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, etc. There are lots of these in print at the library and some online as well. Your textbook may also be a good source.
  • Popular sources such as news and magazine articles can be a good way to get a basic understanding of a subject. They can also show you what kind of issues and questions are being raised, which can give you ideas for your project topic.
  • Start a list of keywords that are used to write about your topic; this will help when you search for information.


How to find background information
  • Check the Library's Research Guides for the resources available in your subject area.
  • Do a Catalogue Quick Search on the BCIT Library homepage. Make sure to check the Articles tab in the search results to see popular and scholarly articles online.
  • Ask a Librarian! They are knowledgeable about good sources for background information on many different subjects.

These are some good online reference sources available through the BCIT Library:

Research Tips pdf

Refining Your Topic

  • If you are finding too much information about your topic, it may be too broad; make it more specific.
  • If you are not finding enough information about your topic, it may be too narrow; make it more general.
  • Try making your topic into a question. This can help to clarify it. For example: Do cell phones cause adverse health effects?
Too broad Depression
Too narrow Cognitive stimulation therapy as a treatment of depression in the elderly with dementia
Good Forms of therapy in the treatment of elders with depression


If your topic is too broad, you might try asking some of these questions to help refine it:

Who might this apply to? Is there a particular population or demographic group you could focus on?

What? Is there a specific aspect of this topic that is most interesting to you?

When? Does it make sense to limit your topic to a particular time period?

Where? Could you consider your topic within the context of a particular place or geographic region?