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Education Research Tutorial: Starting Your Research

Step-by-step guide to conducting research in education

Choosing a Topic

Selecting a topic is the first step in the research process, and it’s not always an easy task. You may feel overwhelmed and uncertain at the beginning. Here are some suggestions to help you choose an appropriate topic.


  • Understand the scope or requirements of your research project. When in doubt, discuss the assignment or project with your professor.
  • Select a topic that interests you. You’ll be spending some time with this topic; it will help if you choose something you’ll enjoy investigating. 
  • Read, read, read!  There is no substitute for doing some reading about your topic.  Consult subject encyclopedias, books, book chapters, and articles in education journals.
  • Choose a topic that has sufficient information to support your argument. A preliminary exploration of the topic using books, journals, newspapers, and web resources can help you determine if there are adequate sources for your research. (Remember also that, if a topic seems to be so thoroughly researched that there is little left to add, you might want to look for a new approach to the topic or find a different subject.)
  • Pick a topic that is focused, yet presents multiple facets. This will allow you to narrow or broaden the topic if necessary.

Learning about your Topic

Once you have selected a topic, try to gain an overview of the scope, background, theories, important figures, significant events, and issues surrounding it. Books, articles, and authoritative web resources are always helpful. 

You may also find subject encyclopedias and handbooks particularly useful for background information. A subject encyclopedia or handbook provides explanations of the field’s terminology and jargon, introduces you to subtopics, and leads you to other relevant sources through bibliographies at the end of entries. In addition, cross-references provided by the index can broaden your view of the topic.

You may find consulting two online resources helpful as you search for background information on your topic:  Credo Reference and Research Starters - Education. Both are available here. 

Credo Reference provides online access to the full content of reference books in many subject areas.  Consult Credo Reference to find information in encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference sources. In addition to general resources, Credo Reference includes many subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries that could be especially helpful as you explore your topic. 

Research Starters - Education is a good source of background information for many education subjects.  It provides comprehensive summary articles about topics in the field of education.

Remember to be flexible about your topic.  As you explore a subject and the available research, you may decide to revise your original topic by narrowing or expanding the scope of your research.  Or, you might decide to change your topic entirely.  Starting your research early will give you the greatest flexibility.



Your Librarian

Alice Ruleman's picture
Alice Ruleman
Chair, Library Services
Associate Professor of Library Services
Liaison - College of Education
JCK Library
University of Central Missouri
Warrensburg, MO 64093
JCKL Rm 2452