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Research Process

These pages offer an introduction to the research process at a very general level.


The best way to pick a topic is to have plenty of time to think about it very early on. If you are in a dissertation track program, you will want to start thinking about potential topics as soon as your first course.

Begin thinking about the type of research you would like to do by asking yourself the questions below. Record topic ideas in a log or journal, making sure not to evaluate any ideas during the process. Remember, even seemingly silly ideas can lead you to relevant new topic areas and research questions. This process can be an invaluable way to recall ideas that you may forget as you progress through your program. 

  • What are your major interests within your discipline?
  • What personal experiences have you had that were particularly significant or meaningful to you, as it relates to your discipline?
  • What coursework did you take that you found most exciting?
  • What theories and concepts are most interesting to you?
  • Are there some ideas you have studied which you are curious about and would like to explore more?
  • What are your career goals upon completion of your degree?
  • What are the major issues or problems faced in your industry today?
  • Have you read any interesting articles or books related to your discipline?

The next step is to start identifying keywords related to your potential topic ideas. Try to break down your topic or research question into 2-4 overall main ideas; these main ideas become simple keywords which “point the way” to research in that area. Similar to the Topic Ideas Journal, keep a keyword list when you are researching a topic.

Mind Maps

Mind maps, also called concept maps, are diagrams that demonstrate relationships between concepts, ideas or other pieces of information. Mind maps can be particularly helpful during the brainstorming process as they may lead to you important related topics and help you to expand your search.

The Credo Reference database provides a Mind Map tool that displays the connections between Credo Reference search results in a visual, interactive and easy-to-use format. Follow the instructions below to view Mind Maps in Credo Reference.

  1. On the Library's home page, select A-Z Databases to navigate to Credo Reference.

  2. On the Credo Reference home page, search for your topic keywords using the basic search box, or select from the Research Popular Topics displayed. Note that Mind Maps exist for only broad-level topics, so it is important to keep your search terms broad.

  3. If a Mind Map exists for your topic, you will see it displayed on the right-hand side of the screen. Click on the Expand Mind Map button in the upper corner to open it up.

    Screenshot of the Search Results screen in Credo.

  4. The map displays your search term at the center of the map and related in the surrounding ring. The surrounding concepts represent concepts that show up most frequently with the central concept, in Credo's content as a whole. The bigger the font size, the more frequently the concepts occur together. The panel on the right shows Credo reference articles related to the central concept. 

    Screenshot of the Credo Mind Map for Leadership.


  1. Click on any term in the map to re-center the search around that node, with new words populating the map in new directions.

    Screenshot of the Credo Mind Map for Leadership.


  1. The terms that you've visited are saved in the Recent Mind Maps list at the bottom of the Mind Map. 

    Screenshot showing the Recent Mind Maps feature in Credo.

  2. Click on any term to return to that view of the map.

For information on creating a Mind Map using Microsoft Word, please see the following websites:

Word 2010 SmartArt Mind Map

MindMapsUnleased: Learn to Create a Mind Map in Word

A resource included in some course syllabi is called Mind Meister. The Mind Meister website allows you to try a live demo, view video tutorials, and create up to three mind maps for free. There is also a free 30 day trial on all subscription plans. Please refer to your course syllabus for basic instructions. You can also visit the Mind Meister Support site for additional assistance.

An internet search for mind map software will reveal additional websites and software products for mind mapping.

Gale Academic OneFile Topic Finder

The Gale Academic OneFile Topic Finder is a tool designed to help you find new topics or keywords and discover new connections found in the top results. There are two ways to visualize below which words and subjects are found most often in the text of your search results.

To access the Topic Finder, click the link on the bottom of the Academic OneFile home page.



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Additional Resources for Exploring Topics