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Science for Nonmajors -- General Guide: Finding a Topic

Science topics are everywhere, and this is where a nonmajor can learn more to make his/her research effective and fun.

Explore, Learn More, and Choose a Topic

Finding Your Way Around

Introduction: -- Is this guide for you?

And Finding a Topic that Works

Research with Background from Books

Research with Databases for Articles

And don't forget to Cite your Sources.

Other Guides

Have you looked atStep by Step for Finding Books and Using Popular Databases,

Also try Step by Step with Social Science and Public Policy Databases.

And Step by Step with Science and Technology Databases.

Back to Handout Central

Help with Chemistry

Try the Chemistry Glossary.

All About Topics

The Topicle, similar to a wordle but about choosing a paper topicFor a science-related paper, project, or presentation, having the right topic can make all the difference. You may have a list of topics that your professor created or inherited. The topics may be too large. They may not feel interesting. You may not understand or care about any of them.

Fortunately, you can usually fix these problems. Even with a fixed list of topic choices you can:

  • Narrow your topic -- Most professors do not want a report on every aspect of a topic. The topic, whether hands-free headsets make using cell phones while driving safer makes a more interesting paper than just explaining the evils of cell phone use while driving.

  • Ask permission to choose your own topic -- Your professor could say no, but she might say "yes." A topic that interests you is more satisfying to research.

  • Ask your topic a question? For argument papers your question is usually about whether something is possible, effective, or worth its cost. For other papers, you can explain how something works or where it came from.

    "How it works" questions are by their nature open (Your sources don't have to support a particular view), but even argument questions about effectiveness can open up into "How effective/safe/affordable/possible is a process or technology?" These more open questions let your sources give you the information that answers the question.

And if you are Still Lost...

READ FOR EXPLORATION. library databases, credible news sources, and A-list blogs provide current and engaging articles aimed at you.

Reading for exploration may seem like pointless, extra work, but the first article that fits your topic, will be your first source. Many articles on the web have links to additional material (more sources), and you will have a topic you love and about which you feel confident.

To read for exploration:

Follow Your Interests

Science is News -- almost without a Paywall

The New York Times' paywall limits free articles to five per month. Fortunately, you can read an unlimited number of articles by Step by Acccessing the New York Times ProQuest

Browse Science News on Academic Search Complete. (Start at the library web page when searching at home.)

Browse New Scientist on Science Direct. (Remember to open the library web page in another tab, when using this link off campus.)

National Public Radio (NPR) also covers Science.

And PBS' Nova covers science as current events, and also offers transcripts.

Science Means Business

Look for science topics in the Wall Street Journal, available full text from ProQuest.

Read about science/technology in the Economist Follow link to ABI-Inform and either browse or search within the magazine.

The latest technology is big business at Technology Review. Note: this magazine now has a three article paywall. You have unlimited access at ProQuest Central.

Science is Popular

Enjoy Popular Science.

Also try Scientific American.

Gadgets and Gizmos

What's next? Read Wired. Wired requires that you disable your ad-blocker on their pages.Wired also has a three article paywall. You can read unlimited articles at ProQuest Central. Make sure you start at the library web page first.

The A-List blog, Gizmodo has not just articles, but links to more info. Gizmodo asks you to turn off your ad-blocker on their pages.

For more technology news, try The Register.

Science as History

Why not take a Science Odyssey?

Explore science' past in the BBC Science Archive.

Curlie offers link on both the the history of technology and the history of medicine.

Science is Animals, Plants, and the Environment

A solid environmental choice, E! Magazine.

Feast your eyes on sthe the National Geographic.

For animal lovers, there is National Wildlife. The link only takes you to the current issue. Make sure to print, download, or bookmark any articles you find.

Explore the natural world in Natural History.

And find more natural science ideas with BBC Earth.