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Natural Resources and the Environment Subject Guide — Research Topics

Description of databases, reference material, journals, books, etc. available for natural resources research.

Narrowing a topic

Sometimes narrowing to a specific topic does not come naturally and can be a difficult task. Here are some techniques available to make this process simpler.

  • First, pick a topic in which you are interested. You will spend a lot of time with your topic and you will do a better job with it if you find the topic enjoyable. As you search through potential topics, note which pique your interest and follow them further.
  • Look for a topic with some recent controversy or a set of related topics which can be compared and contrasted.
  • Pick a topic which you have some hope of understanding. If you cannot understand the basics you will not be able to write about it. Not all topics are appropriate for undergraduate paper writing.

Some additional sites with help on choosing and narrowing topics are listed below.

Where to find possible topics for science papers


If you don't know on what topic you want to write a paper, start by looking in sources with broad spreads of relevant information. 

  • Search any database by a particular journal or review journal (Science, Nature, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, etc.)
  • Look for a classic topic in your textbook 
  • Scan popular science sciences magazines such as Bioscience, Scientific American, Discover, etc.
  • Go to the popular  website which covers most aspects of science and search for a topic
  • Search for ideas in the encyclopedias, handbooks or other books listed in this guide on a separate page
  • If you have some idea of a topic, search for review articles on that topic in one of the science databases listed in this guide
  • Search the table of contents of a journal which specializes in review articles, such as Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Search Strategies for Topics

Part of picking a topic will involve conducting literature searches. As you search for your topic(s) start with searches as BROAD as possible, while remaining relevant to your topic. Starting broad will give a breadth of coverage that allows you easy options for narrowing your topic. If you start with a narrow topic it is much harder to broaden your topic later to explore more options.

Describe your topic in a sentence.

How did carnivorous plants evolve digestive enzymes?

What are your major concepts? Identify the main elements of your topic.

Concept 1 Evolution
Concept 2 Carnivorous plants
Concept 3 Digestive enzymes



Think of related terms for your concepts. Use both common words and scientific terms.







Concept 1


Convergent evolution




Concept 2

Carnivorous plants

Cephalotus follicularis (Australian pitcher plant)

Nepenthes alata (Asian pitcher plant)

Sarracenia purpurea (American pitcher plant)

Drosera adelae (Sundew)

Concept 3

Digestive enzymes


Purple acid phosphatase

RNase T2





Add Boolean Operators (AND & OR) to structure the search in a database search interface.

    Synonyms Synonyms Synonyms Synonyms
Concept 1 Evolution OR Convergent evolution      
Concept 2 Carnivorous plants OR Cephalotus follicularis OR Australian pitcher plant OR Nepenthes alata OR Asian pitcher plant OR Sarracenia purpurea OR American pitcher plant OR Drosera adelae OR Sundew
Concept 3 Digestive enzymes OR Citanase OR Purple acid phosphatase OR RNase T2