Start by creating a Venn diagram of your topic. This will work as a translation device between our messy human brains and finding resources in databases.
If you're not sure of your topic, just start with two circles for each of your main interests. If you have more facets, add them all, even if it gets unwieldy. Don't label the intersections - that's just where you'll find the literature. And don't label the very middle - where all the concepts intersect is your interest!
Just spend a few minutes on this. You'll revist it in the tab for adjusting your topic.
Sometimes your topic starts fairly broad, like "Alcoholics Anonymous and spirituality".
Clearly two search terms are:
But this is not yet a research topic. What about these terms do you want to learn? When you try to refine a topic consider:
From these two terms, here's an example of a full topic:
We could think of "therapists' attitudes" as a third circle in the Venn diagram, but sometimes it's helpful to break it down further into "therapists", "attitudes":
Look at the small intersection point between all the topics. That small space is YOUR TOPIC. It's very likely there are not many articles written about that exact topic. That's why it's helpful to visualize your topic by separating the facets.
Next, think of other terms for each of the circles or bubbles. Think of both narrower & broader terms. So your diagram might look something like this:
Most topics can be visualized with only 3-4 bubbles. However, some will get more complex, especially for dissertations, and might need 5-6. if you only have 1-2 bubbles, it is not yet a topic. If you have 18 bubbles, you have a bit of a mess, as that would be unwieldy for a single topic.
To learn how to apply these terms in a database, see the next few tabs on this guide about choosing a database & using subject headings. To learn how to narrow/expand your results by combining these terms effectively, see the tab on combining terms.
In the Handout "Entering the Scholarly Conversation", use a pencil to create your own Venn diagram.
If you want any help with this activity, I highly recommend you make a reference appointment with me, Frances Brady. You can cook an appointment through the link below.