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Organizational Psychology and Leadership Research Guide

Use this guide to find UNO library resources and other helpful research tools.

Developing a Research Topic

The first step in any research assignment is to define your topic or research question. Be sure to select a topic that you are willing to work with for a considerable amount of time and that applies directly to your profession.

Strategies for Developing a Research Topic/Question

  • Work from the general to the specific – think of the course subject matter and use that to brainstorm different topics (look at the syllabus for help).
  • Note in a notebook any interesting or controversial questions from lectures or discussions, topics in your textbook, or issues that come up in your conversations with classmates.
  • Do some background research to find some more information about your topic ideas. As you do background research, you might add ideas to your topic list or you might change them altogether.
  • Use prewriting strategies such as brainstorming, clustering, or free writing to generate topics.
  • The Internet is also a useful resource, although you must take care to evaluate Internet sources for reliability.
  • Make sure that the topic that you select meets all of your assignment requirements

Generally, it is good to start out with a slightly broader topic that you can develop and narrow as you find information.

Narrowing Your Topic

You can begin to narrow your topic by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is this topic consistent with the assignment?
  • What is interesting about the topic?
  • What do I know about the topic?
  • What do I want to know?
  • What do I need to know?

Skim the literature to help you narrow your topic to a manageable one which meets your instructor's assignment and your interests.

As an example, if your initial topic for a 10 to 20 page paper is "Space Exploration", by the time you finish your topic search, you might have narrowed your topic to "Unmanned U.S. Space Exploration of Planets" or even to a specific planet and mission like "1997's Pathfinder Mission".


Beginning the Search

Unlike Google or other internet search engines, library databases work best when you enter keywords or "search strings" rather than phrases or sentences.

Keywords represent the main ideas and concepts in your research topic. Since each database can categorize the main concepts of your research  under a different subject heading, it is important to brainstorm different words authors may use for your topic so that you have alternate search options if you have difficulty finding resources.

There are a few types of keywords that you can work with, depending on your topic.

  • Narrow
  • Broader
  • Related
  • Similar

Having a range of keywords can help you find many different types of information.

How do I use keywords?

You can put keywords together to search for information in library databases. See the "Diving Deeper" section of this guide to see how to combine your keywords in effective search strings.

Brainstorming Keywords

Why use keywords to search? 

  • Library databases work differently than Google. When you use Google, you can often search for phrases and get relevant results.
  • Library databases work best when you search for concepts and keywords.
  • For your research, you will want to brainstorm keywords related to your research question. These keywords can lead you to relevant sources that you can use in your research project.

How do I figure out keywords to use?

You can use the following steps to help you brainstorm keywords.

1. Identify key concepts in your research question.

For instance, we might be researching the following question:

What are the effects of virtual workplaces on communication and organizational culture?

The key concepts are virtual workplaces, communication and organizational culture.

NOTE: Keywords are usually nouns, so a word like "effect" is not going to be a keyword.

2. Brainstorm related terms for your concepts. You'll want to look for terms that are broader, narrower, related, and similar.

Some of these terms may have come up when you were trying to narrow your topic. Go through your initial research to discover keywords to use. Google and Wikipedia can also help you identify key concepts to try during your keyword search.

Adapted from