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Psychology 15 (Liu): Topic Scope & Keywords

Research Methods in Psychology

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

Narrow Your Topic

When the scope of your topic is too big, it's hard to dig through the huge volume of  information available to find something relevant.  Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, sleep habits is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between sleep habits and academic success might be a more manageable topic.

There are many ways to narrow a topic that is too broad.  Let's use sleep as an example:

  • "sleep habits" and memory (what)
  • "sleep habits and "academic achievement" (what)
  • "sleep habits" and  "college students" (who)
  • "sleep habits" and the United States (where)

Use 2 or 3 of these concepts develop a research question on the topic of sleep habits

Is academic success among college students affect by their sleep habits?

Finding the Right Search Terms

Consider your Keywords

Your initial search may not include all of the resources written about your topic. To capture additional resources, try a series of new searches using different or additional keywords that are related to your topic. 

  • Do some background reading on the subject using articles in Credo Reference. Credo Reference is like Wikipedia, only more credible. 
  • Use a visual thesaurus like Snappy Words, Visuwords, or GraphWords 
  • Most EBSCO databases have a tool to help you discover subject terms. See EBSCO Academic Search Complete > Subject Terms
  • Most ProQuest databases have a tool to help you discover subject terms: See PsycInfo > Thesaurus
  • Do some initial database searches. You may find additional search terms by skimming the  titles in the results list.
  • When you find a useful article, look at the database Subject Headings and record them as possible search terms. (Example)