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Topic Exploration: Exploring Key Words and Concepts

Resources to help you choose or narrow a topic

Gather Search Language as You Explore

As you are reading sources and refining your topic, write words and phrases that you could use to find more information on your topic. Search terms can be the names of people, important events or legislation related to your topic. There may be a preferred term or label used to describe your topic.

To collect keywords, subject terms, topic language, and research ideas, you might: 

  • Take out a piece of paper and a writing utensil and take handwritten notes
  • Open a word document and save it to the desktop. Copy and paste or type your notes. Save your work as you go! 
  • Go to your Google Drive and create a Google Doc then copy and paste or type your notes as you go

Topic Finder

The Gale Topic Finder gives you a visual representaton of search results, chunked into groups by key word so that you can explore. Start by entering a topic.  You can choose Tiles or Wheel as the form of visualization.

picture of Gale Topic finder tilespicture of Gale  Topic finder wheel

You can click on a tile to see smaller key word tiles within it, or hover over a circle section to see the smaller key word sections.


Picking Your Topic IS Research

Video created by NCSU Libraries.License, credits, and contact information can be found at

How to Find Subject Encyclopedias

Use the Library Search to find specialized subject encyclopedias. Type a word or phrase that describes your subject area, and add encycloped*. (The asterisk is a truncation character that tells the computer to return anything that starts with "encycloped": "encyclopedia," "encyclopedias," "encyclopedic.")  Here is an example:

picture of primo search space with search for "eating disorders" encycloped*

Quotation marks around a phrase tell the computer to keep the words together. In the list of results, books may be paper, with a location and a call number, or electronic, with a Full text Available or Online access link. Clicking the link or the title will give you a way to access the book.

pciture of primo library search record for Eating Disorders: An Encyclopedia

Most books have a table of contents you can browse for topics.

Picture of e-book landing page

The encyclopedia article about a topic can give you key words such as technical terms, names of prominent experts, and so on.