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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

The Research Process

Selecting a Topic

Choosing a topic can be one of the most challenging parts of getting started.

  • Review your assignment description. Are there any restrictions or guidelines?
    • Are there suggestions or requirements on the types of resources you should use to inform your project?
    • Are there parameters on how long your project should be?
    • When is your assignment due? 
  • What are you interested in or passionate about? Is there a connection from another course you'd like to build on?
    • Review course readings, discussions, and other materials
      • What topics, authors, or time periods covered do you find most interesting?
      • What haven't you covered yet in class that you want to learn more about?

Developing a Topic

A concept map is a visual organization/representation of knowledge. Concept mapping:

  • Uses free association
  • Aids in developing questions
  • Reveals themes and patterns
  • Helps identify gaps and connections

Concept mapping at the start of the research process can be particularly useful for helping you understand what you know and what you still need to learn. It can also help to clarify the kinds of research methods, resources, and tools you need to consult to better develop and understand your topic.

Doing Preliminary Research

Reference sources can be useful for learning more about your topic and developing research questions—you might even get some ideas by browsing the contents or index of a specialized reference book. Check out our Reference Guide, but here are some general e-reference sources or collections:

Activities & Resources