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Health Subject Guide — Choose and Refine Your Topic

Research Guide for Health, including Allied Health and Nursing

Choose Your Topic

Once you have a basic idea in mind, it's important to do background research. Without a solid understanding of your topic, journal articles, which examine health topics at a very specific level, are hard to find and synthesize.  


Health books provide credible treatise (and pictures) on anatomy, physiology, conditions, and treatments. It's not necessary to read the whole book, just skim the section on your topic and take notes.

Review articles, which summarize research articles, are also useful. But be careful about these secondary sources of information; they can still be quite specific. 

To search for library books, try one of the following links. To search for review articles, look for the review articles limit feature in a database.

When brainstorming search terms for books and review articles, think big! What is the broad category of information you are looking for? Once you understand the basics, you're set for further exploration.

Google and Wikipedia provide a vast amount of information, but not all of it is reliable. 

Refine Your Topic

The key to successfully picking a topic for a research paper is to select one that is not too broad (and impossible to understand in depth) but also not too narrow (such that you won't find enough research about it). 

Consider focusing your search on one or more of these facets:

Aspect of the disease or condition:

  • epidemiology (incidence and distribution)
  • etiology (cause)
  • genetics
  • pathogenesis (manner of development of a disease)
  • pathophysiology (physiology of an abnormal or diseased organism)
  • prevention
  • treatment

Characteristic of the population:

  • age
  • comorbidity (presence of another disease or condition)
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • environment (including geography or specific living conditions)
  • socioeconomic status

The handouts below will help you develop search terms (keywords). Concept mapping helps narrow down very broad topics by visualizing a topic's dimensions. 

Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is a way to visualize a topic. It can help you better understand and narrow down broad topics. Watch the video to learn how to brainstorm and develop keywords for your research.