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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:

A inverted triangle demonstrating how you could narrow the topic of "racial profiling"

  • 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.

 

https://www.columbiacollege.ca/library/library-skills-tutorial/developing-a-research-question

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