Topic development tools

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Students are developing topics for their assignments.  Let’s not underestimate how important this part of the research process is.  Here are some resources to help all of us develop research topics:

  • Encyclopedias & other references

Subject encyclopedias and similar resources can give us an initial overview of a topic.  The libraries provide access to a number of them via CredoReference,  the Gale Virtual Reference Library, and Oxford Reference Online.  Let’s not forget standalone titles, such as The Encyclopedia of Human Rights, as well.

  • MindMeister

This tool allows us to create concept maps.  It also works well for rendering a hand-drawn mind map into a more shareable form.

  • URSUS & MaineCat

Our university system catalog and statewide catalog help us do things beyond finding books.  With subject searching we can view specific subheadings for a general topic.  We can use these subheadings to help us develop a research focus.

  • Writing tutors

The Learning Commons on each campus offers writing assistance.   The USM Lewiston-Auburn College Writing Center website specifically mentions writers of all experience levels.

I’ll close with a set of topic idea sparkers (Joyce, 1997): Family, Friends, School, Job, Hobbies, Travel, Important people, and Important events (p. 25).  Defining a research need is one of the ACRL Information Literacy Standards (2000).  Don’t we deserve some tools to help us define our own information needs?


Association of College & Research Libraries. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education.  Retrieved from

Joyce, M. Z. (1997). Making the writing and research connection with the I-Search process: A how-to-do-it manual for teachers and school librarians.. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.