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Agriculture and Bioresources: Using Library Resources

Looking Carefully at Your Research Topic/Question

After reviewing the material on this page, you will be able to

  •     deconstruct research topics into main concepts
  •     determine synonyms and related terms for the main concepts
  •     understand why this preliminary work is important

Before heading to the library databases to search for scholarly information pertaining to your topic, it is good to sit down and think about what you are looking for. Write your research topic or question down and determine the main concepts. There is no one right way to do this, and there need not be related terms for every concept. You do not have to search for every single related term you have come up with. You just want to make sure you are not missing an important alternative concept that a researcher might use to describe an element of your topic or question. Here is an example of a research topic broken down by your librarian.

  1. Main concepts:

Example research topic: Examine the forage potential of intercropping barley and field peas.

Concepts are highlighted: Examine the forage potential of intercropping barley and field peas.

Here are the main concepts: forage potential, intercropping, barley, and field peas.

  1. Think about how else these key concepts can be described. Are there synonyms or related terms? A table for this activity works well:
    Table that contains the main concepts and synonyms/related terms for the example research topic
    Main Concepts Forage Potential Intercropping Barley Field Peas
    Synonyms/related terms   intercrop Hordeum vulgar Pisum sativum
        catch crop    
        succession planting    
        polyculture    

Your librarian came up with these synonyms and related terms by exploring the main concepts online. There may be other synonyms or related terms. Here is some description about determining these related terms:

  • Forage potential consists of several elements. Your librarian has decided to just go with this concept for now.
  • intercropping and catch crops are part of a larger process called succession planting. Polyculture is the overarching term for all of these activities. So these related terms are broader in scope. Searching for the broader terms could provide results that also contain the narrower terms.
  • Barely – also known as Hordeum vulgare.
  • Field peas – also known as Pisum sativum.
  • What about examine? That is the activity that you will be doing so it doesn't constitute a key concept.

Importance of the preliminary work