Determining the scope of your paper to fit the assignment requirements is important. You can begin with a broad topic and continue to refine the topic to a manageable scope. A topic such as terrorism is too broad for a short paper, but it is a great place to start.
When you are looking for factual information, it is important to know how to phrase your topic sentence.
One way of guaranteeing a focused research question is to answer the 5Ws, who, what, where, when, and why. You don't have to answer all the questions, but should answer enough so that your topic is manageable to research and will fit within your assignment length requirement.
An example of a question can be:
What is the relationship between United States intelligence operations and counter terrorism since 9/11?
Unlike Google and other web searches, databases work best when you enter keywords instead of full phrases or questions.
Keywords represent the main ideas and concepts in your research topic. Things to remember:
Identifying main concepts within your research question/topic.
Research Question: How do high school seniors prepare to take the standardized tests?
Main Concepts: high school seniors, prepare, standardized tests (words like how, do, and, to, etc. are not important)
There are a few types of keywords that you can work with, depending on your topic.
How do I use the keywords I come up with in the databases?
Keywords can be combined in different combinations within the database to form "search strings" using connecting words like "AND" and "OR". Different keyword combinations will work better depending on the database, so having a list will help you from getting stuck.
TIP: Use "AND" to connect different concepts from your research question and "OR" to connect keywords for the same concept.
Here's a quick example of a search using keywords connected with AND and OR in one of the databases.
Many times you will be asked to find scholarly articles when you are completing a class assignment. Here are some ways to identify a scholarly journal article.
Click on the image at the right for more information on scholarly vs. popular articles.
You may also be asked to use empirical articles or primary research - but what do these terms mean?
Click the image for larger version.