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Writing A Literature Review: Identifying a Research Topic

This guide provides information and links on how to write literature reviews.

Step 1 : Identifying a Research Topic

The first step in the literature review process is to identify and define the topic that you wish to focus on in your literature review. 

How to start the topic selection process:

  1. Pick a general subject area that interests you and that is relevant to your studies.You may want to discuss your ideas with your Instructor.
  2. Do some background research in order to gain a better understanding of the subject area. 
  3. Break the subject area down into self-contained (meaning discreet and easily identifiable) parts. Think of each of these parts as an individual research problem that you intend to investigate. Each of the parts that you identify has the potential to serve as the focus of your literature review.
  4. Choose the part that most interests you and use it as your focus of your literature review. Note that if you choose to focus on a specific rather than a more general topic or subject area, you will increase the likelihood that your research and, thus, your literature review will be contained and manageable.
  5. Be wary, however, of choosing an obscure or overly specific topic as this increases the likelihood that you'll have trouble finding a suitable amount of research to report upon in your literature review. 
  6. Identify Key concepts, and any synonyms or alternative terms for those concepts.

Before you commit to your chosen topic:

  1. Be sure to run a few sample searches of the BCIT Library catalogue and one or two relevant online databases in order to get a sense of if and/or how much research has been published on the topic.
  2. If you are overwhelmed by the amount of research that your  initial searches lead you to, try to break down your topic even further and choose a more specific part to focus on. 
  3. If you are unable to locate materials on your topic, get in touch with a librarian at the BCIT Library to see if they can help you build and run  more productive searches for resources.
  4. If, after making contact with a librarian, you are still unable to find enough on your chosen topic or if, at any point in the process, you decide that you are no longer interested in focusing on your chosen topic, return to the list of parts of the general subject area that you made at the beginning of the topic selection process and choose another potential focus for your literature review.   

Tips for Choosing a Topic

When choosing a topic to focus on in your literature review, be sure to:

  • start with a general subject area and work towards a specific research topic,
  • think of potential topics as research problems that you intend to investigate,
  • choose a topic that interests you,
  • avoid choosing an obscure or overly specific topic,
  • run sample searches of the BCIT Library catalogue and relevant databases to gauge how much research has been published on your chosen topic,
  • take advantage of the services of BCIT Librarians, and
  • remember that you can change the focus of your literature review at any point in the process.