Finding a Topic: Online Resources


Divide & Conquer!

     Divisive issues often prove to be good research topics. Try my Controversies & Social Issues guide for dozens (and dozens) of possibilities.
     Also consider Public Policy Issues and Groups from Vanderbilt University--a very useful gateway to online resources for a wide spectrum of social issues.

Library Databases (Articles)

     Facts on File World News Digest  World News Digest is an archive of domestic and international news stories from 1940 to the present, updated weekly. It covers all major political, social, and economic events and contains more than a million internal hyperlinks, allowing you to follow the development of each story chronologically as well as connect it to related issues over time and across space. You will not find depth of analysis here, but these resources can provide a useful overview of events and issues.

     For browsing topics use:

CQ Researcher

     CQ Researcher  publishes weekly reports devoted to a single issue in the news, including health, criminal justice, internaional affairs, education, the environment, technology, and the economy. Each report provides an "Overview," "Background," "Current Situation," "Outlook," "Pro/Con," and "Chronology." All reports feature charts/graphs of relevant statistics and accompanying photographs.

     For browsing topics use:

General OneFile

     General OneFile  is a comprehensive database of journal, magazine, and newspaper articles. If you have a general topic but still need to find a focus, use the Subject Search as a brainstorming tool. When you have located the appropriate Subject Heading for your topic, you will be offered links to both "Related Subjects" and "Subdivisions."
     "Related Subjects" provides a list of topics that are directly related to your subject but often narrower in scope.
     The "Subdivisions" allow you to focus on a particular aspect of the topic: Case Studies, Economic Aspects, Forecasts and Trends, Health Aspects, History, Innovations, Laws, Political Aspects, Psychological Aspects, Religious Aspects, and Social Aspects--to name only a few.

Opposing Viewpoints in Context

     Opposing Viewpoints in Context : Go fishing in the search slot at the top and hope the autofill function steers you toward the right subject heading--or open the "Browse Issues" page and pick your topic from the extensive alphabetical list.  Once you've connected with an issue you'll be offered resources from a range of categories, including Viewpoints, Academic Journals, Magazines, News, Reference, Statistics, and Websites.

Finding Editorials

     These three comprehensive databases make it easy to target editorial essays in newspapers, magazines, and journals. If you have a general topic but need to focus the issues and/or take a postion, scanning editorials will help you understand what aspects are controversial and help clarify where you stand in relation to the prevailing arguments.
  • Academic Search Premier  Scroll down to the "Document Type" slot on the home page and select "Editorial." Then enter a Subject or Keywords to describe the issue.
  • ProQuest Research Library : (If this link opens the Basic search, switch to Advanced). In the "Document Type" menu select "Editorial." Then enter a Subject or Keywords to describe the issue.
  • LexisNexis Academic : Click the "Search by Subject or Topic" bar above the search slot and then choose "All News." Now open "Advanced Options" below the search slot and under "Article Type" check "Editorials & Opinions"--then enter Keywords or phrases to describe the issue. 

Polling the Nations

     Polling the Nations  provides the results of over 14,000 public opinion surveys from 1986 to the present.  Open the "Topic" menu for a master list of all polling subjects. Browsing this could suggest an issue to pursue--and it would come complete with data on public opinion.


     Statista : The focus here is on current statistics in agriculture, advertising, health, consumer goods, business and industry, recreation, transportation, tourism and social trends. An interesting or unexpected statistic could be the starting place for a thesis. Here's a link to the Topic Overview.

Library Catalog (Books & Media)

IC Library Catalog

     A library catalog provides a very effective means of brainstorming a topic. Enter a "Browse" search "by Subject" (Browse searches are linked from above the right end of the Library home page search slot). Enter a likely Subject Heading ( and if it doesn't work try various synonyms) and when you find the designated Subject Heading for your topic browse the available subheadings displayed below it. If you find one that interests you, you are guaranteed at least one resource in the Library collection.
  • Subject Search on  Globalization: Browse the pages of subheadings to see how particular facets of a topic can be identified and targeted in a Library catalog.

ebrary (full text online books)

     Ebook Central (formerly ebrary)  Through ebrary the IC Library has access to approximately 70,000 full-text online books.  Each book has an individual record in the IC Library catalog, but these records are brief, with little more depth of information than the assigned Subject Headings and the language used in the book and chapter titles.  Sometimes your topic may be too particular or specialized to target effectively by searching catalog records .  By searching ebrary as a database, you can run keyword searches of the complete full text of all 70,000 volumes--giving you page-level access to these resources.

Contact Us

picture of Lisabeth Chabot

Lisabeth Chabot

College Librarian
(607) 274-3182

Web Tools

Think Tanks & Research Institutes

Think Tanks & Research Institutes: A short collection of Web resources that can access these often influential contributions to public policy debate. 


DocuTicker: Article Categories: This Web site collects articles and reports from government agencies, NGOs, and think tanks.  Browse this list of topic categories to find something interesting or provocative.

Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center: The Pew Research Center conducts nonpartisan public opinion polling and social science research and is an outstanding resource for social issues and public policy information. Use the “Topics” index--as well as the “Site Search.”  Also note: This is a good search engine if you're still brainstorming a topic.  As you type your search, may display a selection of searches related to your terms, any of which you may choose. Within retrieval sets there may also be a helpful display of "Related Searches," often including Pro and Con categories for controversial topics. 


Frontline: almost 30 years of investigative journalism by this PBS show is available here in one-hour Flash videos.  Most of these focus on social and public policy issues.  Browse the options by Category on the right or scan them all By Date. Any one of these could be the starting point for a research project. This is more a brainstorming than a research site.  In addressing its 40 controversial issues it's strong on snippets of information, brief quotes, and statistics.  Use it as a stimulus to further research elsewhere.

Web Sites with an Agenda

     In searching the Web you may find research and policy recommendations published by "think tanks," many of which have political/ideological affiliations.  An organization called SourceWatch can help you identify such ties and alert you to any political agenda the research was intended to serve.
      If you wish to see how your topic is discussed at conservative and liberal think tanks, here are some online sites that discuss a wide range of social issues.


And Now That You Have a Topic . . .

Need databases and Web sites for research across a wide range of disciplines and subjects? Try my Desert Island Databases: Help for Researchers at Sea.