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ORG 270: Organizational Communication (Ems)

Background Research

Doing background research to explore your initial topic can help you to find create a focused research question. Another benefit to background searching - it's very hard to write about something if you don't know anything about it! At this point, collecting ideas to help you construct your focused topic will be very helpful. Not every idea you encounter will find its way into your final project, so don't worry about collecting very, very detailed information just yet. Wait until your project has found a focus.

While you're doing you're background research, don't be surprised if your topic changes in unexpected ways - you're discovering more about your topic, and you're making choices based on on the new information you find. If your topic changes, that's OK!

What Interests You?

Identifying what interests you in the context of your assignment can help you get started on your research project.

Some questions to consider:

Why is your project interesting/important to you? To your community? To the world?

What about your project sparks your curiosity and creativity?

What am I looking for?

It can be very helpful to write out your thoughts as you work through the answers to these questions.

Think about what you need to know:

  • What do you already know about your topic?
  • What don't you know about your topic? What do you feel like you might need to know? 
  • What are the fundamental facts and background on your topic? What do you need to know to write knowledgeably about your topic?
  • What are the different viewpoints on your topic? You should expect to encounter diverse views on a topic.

And of course...

  • What is your assignment asking of you? 

When you are doing your research, you are not looking for one perfect source with one right answer. You're collecting and thinking critically about ideas to form a focus for your own research.

If you're having trouble answering these questions, you might find the six journalist's questions helpful in focusing your thinking:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

Don't feel like you need to get bogged down in the minutiae of every source at this point!

At this point in your research, you are browsing for ideas and information to help you fill in the gaps. You're looking to develop a more focused topic. When you focus your topic you'll be able to really engage with the sources that will help you with your sources.

Soooo, where should I start?

  • Wikipedia
  • News sources
  • Encyclopedias/dictionaries
  • Textbooks/class readings
  • Library databases

Forming Your Research Questions

Performing Background Research and Initial Searching develops your general area of interest so that you can form a more focused topic.

As you review the information you've found from these steps and the ideas you've encountered, these questions may help you to form a focus for your research:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • How interested am I in this idea?
  • How much time do I have?
  • What information and resources are available?

(From Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century by Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari)

Look back through your background research and consider: 

What have you found? How does the information and ideas you've encountered fit together? What themes have emerged? What important questions do you want to develop from the ideas and information you have found? What do you want to explore in more detail? What do you want your research to focus on? 

And - do your research questions answer the assignment?

You'll want to make sure that you're not trying to answer too many questions  - think about the time you have available. You'll want to focus on one aspect of your topic.

How do I Know if My Topic is Sustainable?

You will not really know if your topic will work until you start searching for information. The information you found while exploring your topic doing background research should give you an idea of whether or not your topic is sustainable.

Test your topic in a few databases by searching for the key concepts or terms. 

  • Are you finding too much information? Perhaps your topic is too general. Add a few more terms to your search and explore (for example, you might feel like you're finding too much on "College Students." Looking for information about "Freshmen," though, will give you fewer and more specific results).
  • Are you finding too little information? Perhaps your topic is too specific. Try searching again using broader synonyms for your search terms (for example, you might not find much on the topic "Butler Students." "College Students" will give you more information).

As you develop your research question, you might find that you need to ask a broader or narrower question, depending upon the resources available and the time you have to complete your assignment.

Sometimes it's hard to determine if a topic is too broad or specific. Try checking in with your instructor (who has a good idea of the field of research!) or a librarian (who has a good idea of the available resources!).

Does Your Research Question Actually Answer a Question?

Sometimes this is referred to as the "so what" - what makes your project interesting and important.

What makes your question important? What makes your question interesting or exciting? Does your question require anything more of you than just repeating the information you've found? (If you find you're just repeating the information found, you probably don't have a very good question).


used under CC BY-NC 4.0/ modified from original, adapted from Research Now! by UConn Libraries


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