--If you can choose your own topic, choose one that interests you. For ideas, look through your required texts and readings, consult with your instructor, peruse newspapers and magazines, explore personal experiences and interests.
--State your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by teenagers, you might pose the question, "What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on teenagers?" Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question, e.g. (alcoholic beverages OR alcohol) and (teenagers OR teens)
Quickly read up on the broad topic to find the issues and controversies.
Read articles in the sources you find to set the context of your research. Pay close attention to the vocabulary the authors use. What are the experts discussing? How can you contribute to that conversation?
Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of these overview sources. They can provide leads to other useful books or articles.
The purpose of this research is to educate yourself about the topic. You probably won't cite these sources in your paper.
List terms to use in your search. Include synonyms and related terms.
Make a brief outline of major topics you plan to cover in your project.
Your resources search will provide the information to fill out your outline or help you revise it.
Consider the types of sources appropriate to your topic. Will books suffice? Do you need primary sources for a science paper or primary sources for history research? Should articles be exclusively from scholarly journals? Do you need statistics?
Consider how to narrow down a broad topic. You can focus on a specific geographical area, a particular culture, a disciplinary perspective, or population group.
See more examples on the George Washington University site on focusing your research topic.