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CJ Criminal Justice Resources: Getting Started

Choosing a Topic

Need help coming up with a topic for your research? 

  • Scan your syllabus:
    • Did your professor provide topic guidelines?
    • Are there topics that have been covered that you find particularly interesting in finding more?
  • Browse current journals, magazines, newspapers, and/or news websites (with reliable information) - see the Media Sources tab for suggested sources, or take a look at our print newspapers and magazines in the library.

Topic Selection Aids

Narrowing Your Topic

Once you have selected a topic to focus on, or after you have been given a topic, you will need to focus your topic. For example, perhaps your broad topic is racial profiling. To narrow your topic, you may consider some of the following:

  • People
  • Place
  • Time
  • Specific Event
  • Point of View or Specific Problem or Question

For my topic, racial profiling, I could narrow my topic by focusing on a specific group of people, a geographic location where racial profiling is common, and a problem or consequence that is a result of racial profiling.

Next, you should consider whether you can turn your topic into a research question. For example, my research question could be:

Does racial profiling against black men in America play a role in increasing poverty within black communities?

Once you have a narrow research question or topic, you will need to come up with keywords to use in the library's databases to find relevant sources.

Formulating Your Search Strategy

Now that you've got a research question, how do you search for sources to support your research? The key is teasing out terms to use in searching. Let's start with the question:

Does racial profiling against black men in America play a role in increasing poverty within black communities?

First, we isolate the important phrases; in this case, menblack, racial profiling, poverty, and communities. We can use these phrases as starting points for a list of synonymous terms, broader and narrower topics, related words, and reversed word orders. Here's a quick list:

  • men
  • males
  • gender
  • black
  • African American
  • minorities
  • racial profiling
  • race discrimination
  • racism
  • poverty
  • socioeconomic status
  • communities
  • neighborhoods
  • cities

Phrases are searched as keywords unless they are surrounded by quotation marks (" ").

Another helpful tool is truncation. Using an asterisk (*) at the end of a root of a word will search all endings. For example, a search with "communit*" searches the following:

  • community
  • communities


Other helpful sources for topic exploration & background