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HCTC Library Orientation and Research Guide: Choose Your Topic

This guide is meant to help HCTC library users locate and use library resources and aid them in their research.

Subject or Topic?

Image of subject versus topic explanation.

Brainstorming Methods

Explore the problem — not the topic

1.    Who is your reader?

2.    What is your purpose?

3.    Who are you, the writer? (What image or persona do you want to project?)

Make your goals operational

1.    How can you achieve your purpose?

2.    Can you make a plan?

Generate some ideas


  • Keep writing
  • Don't censor or evaluate
  • Keep returning to the problem

Talk to your reader

  • What questions would they ask?
  • What different kinds of readers might you have?

Ask yourself questions

Journalistic questions

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? So What?

From Brizee, A. (2010, April 17). Prewriting (Invention) General Questions. Retrieved from [Purdue].

The Zero Draft

The Zero Draft is an ideation technique for individuals often used by writers and is essentially a form of focused free-writing. For marketers and agency professionals, it can help focus the first stages of a new project by establishing what you currently know and getting your initial ideas out of your brain and onto paper.

Taking your central theme or topic:

Write down everything you currently know about the subject.

Write down what you need or want to know about the subject, but don't currently know.

Reflect on why the subject is important.

Add anything else that takes your fancy -- this is a chance to get whatever's floating around in your head out into the world.

The Zero Draft method is all about getting everything you can think of relating to your topic down on paper, so don't be concerned if it looks messy and unfocused. The goal is just to get past the initial block that often plagues creative professionals in the early stages of a new project.

From Mansfield, D. (2016, November 17). 10 Creative Exercises That Are Better Than Brainstorming​. Retrieved from [Where Marketers Go to Grow].

Databases for Topic Exploration

Opposing Viewpoints In Context is the premier online resource covering today’s hottest social issues, from capital punishment to immigration, to marijuana. This cross-curricular research tool supports science, social studies, current events, and language arts classes. Its informed, differing views present each side of an issue and help students develop information literacy, critical thinking skills, and the confidence to draw their own valid conclusions.

Writing a Research Question

Finding Keywords with Word Clouds

Word clouds are a fun way students can pull keywords from articles to continue their searching. Create a word cloud by copying parts of an article you are interested in and pasting it into a word cloud generator website such as:



Word clouds work by eliminating stop words such as is, the, a, or and make the words larger the more times they are used in the copy and pasted text. This allows you to see a visual representation key concepts from a research article, allowing you to expound on that concept during your own research.

For example, this word cloud was created using Wordle and an article titled, Faculty perceptions towards student library use in a large urban community college. Judging from the title words like faculty and library emerge as strong concepts, the word cloud confirms that. But words like pedagogical, skills, and even self-esteem emerge in the word cloud, giving you some potential keywords to explore the overreaching topic further.

Wordle Cloud

Baker, R. K. (1997). Faculty perceptions towards student library use in a large urban community college. Journal of Academic Librarianship. 23(3), 177.

Print Resources for Choosing a Topic

Learning Activities