Tips for developing your research topic

Developing your topic takes research!

Research is an exploration of a topic that sometimes leads you to a different place than where you started. This is not only OK, it’s exactly what research is about. Research is NOT about having an opinion and finding sources that say what you want them to say.

Start with some background reading to familiarize yourself with the topic and the jargon surrounding the topic — those are your keywords. Then see what we have in our catalog. Is it enough to base your project on? Or do you need to rethink? On the other hand, there may be more information than you can handle so you might have to narrow it down.

Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Applied Research Project: Consider topics that support the strategic goals of the U.S. Fire Administration, are relevant to your organization, and relate to the EFO course content (EFO Handbook, p. 15).

Managing Officer capstone project: Select a topic that will allow you to apply concepts learned in the program toward the solution of a problem in your home district.

Not sure where to begin?

1. Consult a reference source.
Encyclopedias, handbooks, codes and guidebooks are among the many resources that fall into this category.
2. Browse the stacks.
Take a walk around the main floor of the library. You'll find our fire science related books organized in general terms as follows:
  • Building Safety, Design, Construction: TH1-TH9000
  • Electrical: TK9-TK1078
  • Emergency Medicine, EMT, Paramedics: RC86-RC87
  • Fire Chemistry: TP265
  • Fire Codes: KF3975-KF3976
  • Fire Combustion, Ignition: QD500-QD516
  • Fire Extinguishing Agents: TP266
  • Fire Service Hydraulics: TC160-TC163
  • Fire Fighters, Protection, Prevention, Tactics: TH9100-TH9598
  • HAZMAT Codes and Regulations: KF3945-KF3964
  • Risk Analysis: T174-T175
  • Wildland Firefighting: SD420-SD421
3. Consult the list.
Explore our most frequently requested research topics. For each topic, you’ll see a page with links to citations describing library materials. Some of our citations will include links to read the full text online.

Develop keywords

synonyms graphic

Snappy Words can help you find synonyms.

Or explore the library’s thesaurus for the search terms most commonly used in the fire, Emergency Medical Services and emergency management sectors. It points you to the best terms for searching collections through our online catalog.

How to narrow or broaden your research topic

How to narrow or broaden your research topic

Broaden your research topic

Other considerations

Creating a research question

The table below illustrates how a research question develops from a broad topic to a focused question. Follow the four examples down the columns to see how the questions develop.

Broad topicPollutionSubstance abuseMarketingNutrition
Restricted topicAcid rainAlcoholismNike and marketingDiets and nutrition
Narrowed topicAcid rain and water qualityAlcoholism and homelessnessNike and international marketingVegetarianism
Research questionWhat does acid rain do to drinking water supplies?What issues need to be addressed to help homeless people deal with alcoholism?What are Nike’s business practices in international sales?How does a vegetarian diet maintain adequate nutrition?
Derived from Exercise 11 (p. 28) in Burkhardt, Joanna M., Mary C. MacDonald, and Andrée J. Rathemacher. Teaching Information Literacy: 35 Practical, Standards-based Exercises for College Students. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003.