Where do I begin when I don't know much about the topic?

Many of us do a Google search when we want to find basic facts on a topic. Often, the most common source for this is Wikipedia. The Library provides additional background sources:

If you want to know how to find background sources like these, ask a librarian. If you prefer to find out on your own, try these resources from Concordia Library:


example Example

You are interested in exploring the topic of happiness. That's a BIG topic. Let's see what else we can find out about it.

The Table of Contents might give you some ideas for subtopics

You could look at subject-specific encyclopedias. For example, are there any encyclopedias of emotions, well-being, or psychology?

In fact, Concordia Library has a few of these:

Textbooks are designed to identify for students key aspects of a topic. Your textbook might outline controversies, provide a timeline, or describe the different schools of thought on a topic.

Look at the table of contents for a few books related to your topic. In the example below, each chapter is about 20 to 25 pages long. That should give you an idea of what you can fit into a paper of that length.

Talk to your professor about possible topics. Keep in mind that you should do some background reading and bring along a few ideas of your own.

Of course! It all depends on your topic. You could:

Also, every discipline has its own way of addressing a topic.

For example: Say your topic is happiness. A sociologist, a psychologist, an economist and a historian would all approach the topic differently. Your textbook will analyze a topic according to the methods of your discipline, which is probably what your professor wants you to do too.

tip Tip: How does Wikipedia work?
Wikipedia: Beneath the Surface [6:41 minutes] (NCSU Libraries) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY8otRh1QPc
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