Skip to Main Content
askus Ask us

Engineering -- Civil Engineering

A guide to civil engineering resources in UVic Libraries

Finding a Research Topic

Most research starts off by finding a topic that interests you most.

Want to find a good topic for your research?

  • You can use key encyclopedias and dictionaries that can help you find current topics of interest.
  • Talking to your professor or your TA about your topic of interest will be beneficial in finding out if you can further study that topic.
  • Once you have determined your topic of interest, write it down in a sentence format.

Concepts and Keywords

Once you have determined your topic, you will need to develop the question or questions that your research will try to answer. One of the best ways to identify potential research questions is to identify concepts or keywords pertaining to your topic. These keywords will guide you to develop a search strategy. 

Key steps to follow while developing your topic:

  • Brainstorm concepts and keywords
  • Ask yourself if these concepts are too broad or too narrow
  • Write down a list of related terms or synonyms
  • Develop a Concept Map (A concept map is a brainstorming tool used to help you generate ideas and think about the relationships among these ideas).

Below is an example of a concept map  for the topic, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Note how research questions can emerge from your concept map.

Some of the research questions that might arise from this concept map include:

a. How has robotic technology enhanced ROV designs?
b. What are the applications of ROVs?
c. Which ROV design has the best maneuverability?

Concept mapping or "clustering" "is a spatial technique that generates associations and seeks connections among them.  You begin by writing a work or phrase in the middle of a blank page and circling it.  As associations occur to you, you write them down and circle them, connecting them by a line to the work/phrase that gave rise to the association.  As you continue this process beyond the first words/phrases surrounding the original word/phrase, you will develop larger clusters in some places than in other.  The well-developed clusters may suggest the most promising ways to develop your topic" Henderson, Eric. (2012) The active reader: Strategies for academic reading and writing (2nd ed.) Don Mills, Canada: Oxford, p 73.

Choosing Keywords to narrow or broaden your topic

If your topic is too broad, you may want to narrow it topic by identifying keywords that will limit your search by Age, Sex, Gender, Geographic Information, etc. If your topic is too narrow however, you may want to use broader headings and generalize them.


For example: What is the environmental impact of the disposal of plastic bottles?

Thanks to LMU/LA for content:

Using the keywords from your search strategy, use the "Find Books" and "Find Articles" tabs to search for scholarly resources.

  • If you are looking for books, search the library catalogue to find new and current material on your subject
  • If you are looking for articles, search the multi-disciplinary databases or specific databases in your subject area to conduct your search
  • Distinguish between primary and secondary sources

Tips on searching:

  • Use key boolean operators like "AND" (to combine terms), "OR" (to distinguish between related terms or synonyms), "NOT" (to omit a term)
  • Use parentheses (), called "nesting," to combine more concepts. For example: (teenagers OR adolescents) AND (beliefs OR attitudes) AND alcohol
  • Shorten, or truncate, a keyword by using symbols such as "*" or "?". For example, canad* will retrieve results for the words Canada, Canadian and Canadians
  • Use quotation marks to search two or more search terms as a phrase (e.g., climate change-use quotation marks (" ") around the whole phrase "climate change") to ensure the words are searched for together as a phrase

Use AND to :

  • narrow down your search results
  • ensure the database finds all the search terms

In the following example, the database will search for "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" AND maneuverability. The oval in red represents the result set for this search.

Use OR to:

  • Connect two or more related terms or synonyms
  • Broaden your search results

In the following example, the database will search for all three concepts and the result set is all three circles in purple.

Use NOT to:

  • exclude certain terms from your search
  • narrow down your results

In the following example, the database will exclude all instances of the word Unmanned Underwater Vehicle.

Evaluating search results:

It is important to evaluate the information you search and find. One way to evaluate your resources is to use a reliable test like the CRAAP test, that quickly allows to answer a few questions.

Currency: The timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance:The importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source, examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose:The reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

Taken from: the CRAAP, developed by CSU Chico. 

A citation, or reference, is the quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing of someone else's work, used as a basis for your own ideas and research.

  • A citation also refers to the information about a source, such as title, author, date, etc., which gives credit to the original author and shows readers where to find the original work.
  • Citations follow a standardized format from a guide such as IEEE style guide.

Find Relevant Sources Video

Creative Commons License
This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.