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Use this guide to access library resources, including databases, books, academic journals, and textbooks, Open Educational Resources, and freely available online resources related to the subject of Art.

Research Tips & Search Terms

Student-selected Research Topics

When students have the freedom to determine their own research topic, they should first consider the course for which they are selecting a research topic - this should narrow the field of topics significantly (science courses typically require scientific research topics, psychology courses typically require psychological research topics, etc.).  

One of the key things to remember when selecting a topic is to choose a subject that is of interest to you. It makes the research process more enjoyable and fun. Keeping the course for which you are writing in mind, try looking through the databases below. Use them to browse for possible topics or to start gathering information on a topic.

Why Narrow Your Research Topic?

Research topics need to be narrowed down when the number of search results is too extensive, or it is too difficult to cover the topic within the page limit assigned.

How to Narrow a Topic

The easiest way to narrow your topic is to start with the broader category under which the topic falls. For example, let's say you want to research education. If you just started by putting 'education' in the search bar, however, you'd quickly be overwhelmed by millions of entries.

So we narrow our topic. Start thinking of sub topics or pieces of your topic.  By getting more specific right away, it will help weed out a lot of extra sources and you can focus in on a more specific topic. 

You could try narrowing your topic by adding any of these aspects to your research:

  • by Time period (Education in the Great Depression? After 1990?)
  • by Location - think state, region, or area (Education in the U.S.? Education in rural areas? Education in jobs?)
  • by Population. Consider culture, ethnicity, gender or age. (Education and women? Education and young adults?)
  • by Discipline (History of education? Education regulations? Marketing educational products?)
  • by Aspect (Education and Common Core? Education and Montessori? Education and politics?)
  • by Relationship. This means comparing or contrasting your topic with another. Look for similarities and differences (Public Education vs. Home Schooling? Distance Learning vs. Face to Face Learning? Using physical resources for education vs. using digital resources for education?)

Looking at these different aspects can help you narrow your topic, making both your writing and your research more manageable.

Why Broaden a Research Topic?

A Research Topic might need to be broadened when your search doesn't yield enough results or when you don't have enough information to fill an essay on the topic.  Sometimes research topics need to be broadened after they have been narrowed too much.

How to Broaden a Topic

To broaden your topic, consider what larger categories your topic might fit into.  For instance, if you are currently researching education in Minnesota, with little to no results, consider researching education in the United States. 

To broaden a Search, you must update your search parameters.  Remember, the more search terms you use, the fewer results you get. Also, word choice matters!

  • First, try out different words for your topic. Instead of "Kids" try "children." Instead of "Education" try "Teaching" or "Learning."
  • Try using fewer words to search.  Instead of searching "high school education results on standardized tests using common core" try searching "common core education and standardized tests"
  • If you still aren't finding enough sources, try broadening your concept a little. If you're looking into a town, try looking at the state instead. If you're looking at a specific age, broaden it to an age range like "teenagers" or "elderly."
  • If all else fails you can always combine/compare information. If you have a couple sources on adolescent education in England, you could take that info and compare it to adolescent education in the United States, or adult education in the UK and US. Combining such very narrow topics will help you get enough research.

And, as always, if you still can't find what you're looking for? Come see a librarian!

What is a Keyword?

A keyword is the concept that the research question is about. It can be one word or various words, called key phrases. Put simply, keywords are the words that are important in the question.

Determining Keywords

Your job, as the student researcher, is to determine the keywords associated with your research topic.

Example: Let's say your research topic is to find out how common core standards of education have impacted adolescent performance on national standardized tests.

What keywords or search terms/phrases could be identified in that prompt?

  • "Common Core"
  • Adolescent (or "Adolescent Performance")
  • "Standardized Tests"

Synonyms & Alternate Search Terms

Once you have identified the keywords for your research topic, the next step is to determine alternative search terms for each keyword so that you can vary your searches and increase your search results.

  • "Common Core" - alternative search terms include the following:
    • Education OR "Educational Standards"
    • Learning
  • Adolescent - alternative search terms include the following:
    • Teen OR Teenager
    • Student OR Students
  • "Standardized Tests" - alternative search terms include the following:
    • Exams
    • "National Standards"
    • Scores
    • Results

Relational Search Terms

Sometimes your search results need to be narrowed by a relational search term - a term that relays how two or more terms are related.  This can be used to create a search phrase.

  • Influence
  • Impact
  • Effect/Affect


  • "Common Core" affect on "Standardized Tests"

Evaluating Sources

When conducting research online (especially when not searching within a database), students must be sure to evaluate sources before using them as references in college-level assignments. One of the biggest benefits of online searching - the vast amount of information available - is also one of the biggest drawbacks.  With so much information to sift through, finding information that is reliable, accurate, and actually pertains to your research topic can be more difficult than you might think.

Resources to avoid using as references typically include Blogs, Social Media posts, websites with pop-up ads, websites with outdated web-design, Tabloids, and Wikipedia.  

Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source because it can be edited by anyone in the world with an account. Wikipedia can be a great resource for finding other sources, though.  At the bottom of each Wikipedia page is a list of References that link out to websites referenced within each Wikipedia article.  Check out these links and evaluate them for reliability!

The Writing Process

The Writing Process

Step 1. Pre-Writing  - Decide on a topic, brainstorm, create an outline (generally essays should have an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph), develop a thesis statement and supporting arguments...

What is a thesis statement?  concise summary of the main point or claim of the essay/research paper, typically delivered in one sentence. 

Step 2. Research - Determine where to find resources and search for information on your topic.  Write citations for sources as you research.

Step 3. Drafting - Put the information you researched into your own words.  Write out sentences and paragraphs in an organized way to support your thesis statement.

Step 4. Revision - Read what you have written (reading it out loud can be helpful).  Rearrange sentences and words as needed. Take out or add parts. Do more research if necessary.

Step 5. Editing/Proofreading - Correct spelling and grammar.  Check for run-on sentences and sentence fragments.  Double check that you have properly cited quoted or paraphrased text. Check that your paper uses the correct style formatting (APA, MLA, etc.).

Remember that the writing process is not always a linear path.  Sometimes you must circle back to previous steps along the way to perfect your final product.

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