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ITAL 4290 Italian Culture in Cinema (Ardizzoni): 1. Develop a Topic

Start with a Research Question

A research question is useful for guiding the rest of your research process, but it can change as you learn more about your topic. Start with a question you are curious about or a topic that your professor assigns to you. Think about what really interests you about that issue. Ask the following questions to help articulate your research question:

  • Who? - Who is my research question about? Does it involve a person or group of people (like a company or organization)? Are there certain demographic criteria that I'm interested in?
  • What? - What is the main focus of my research question? Are there subtopics or other issues surrounding it? 
  • When? - Is time a factor in my research question? Is there a historical period that is involved, or am I looking for up-to-date information? 
  • Where? - Is geography a factor in my research question? Does place matter for this topic? Can I think more broadly about the location, like region or continent, instead of city or state? Would research from another similar location be relevant to help answer my research question?   
  • Why? - Why is this topic interesting? Why will my readers be interested in this? Is there a broader context or theory that this question involves? Do I need background information about this topic? 
  • How? - How can I go about finding the information I need to answer the research question? Is the information freely available online or in a library subscription resource like a database? Do I need books, journal articles, or something else?

Now that you have thought about these questions, you should try to write out your research question and include as many of these details as possible.

Example: How does Italian cinema provide commentary on contemporary social issues?

In this example, there are several answers to the questions above. The 'what' includes social issues, and you can come up with more specific examples. The 'when' is contemporary. The 'who' could be the film directors or actors involved in Italian cinema. The 'why,' and 'how' are not explicitly stated in this question, but that's OK. You can also think about 'how' the scholars gathered information, and that will be useful to you when you evaluate the information you find (more on that in the Evaluate page).


Reference Databases

Reference works like encyclopedias and atlases contain background information that help inform you so that you're ready to do foreground research. What's the difference? Typically scholars do not cite background information because the information is already well known in their field or easy to find. Foreground research is what I call the stuff that you cite - the journal articles, books, and other sources you use to build your arguments and inform your projects and papers.

Explore these databases below to learn more about the context (the people, places, eras, themes) of your research topic. Taking time to do this before diving into the databases can help you search more efficiently later on. 

Tip! Keep your eyes peeled for new keywords!

Literary Reference Databases

Using Wikipedia for Research and other Reference Sources

As you gather background information about your topic, your research question may change and that’s okay. Background information should inform you of what’s already known about your topic so that you can ask questions that truly require research to answer. Sometimes background information can be called “reference information.” In fact, there’s a whole section of Norlin Library that has reference materials.


Wikipedia sphere logo Wikipedia name text

One place you can start is Wikipedia, but be sure to check other sources including library subscription encyclopedias (see links in the "Reference Databases" box). You can use Wikipedia to:

  1. Do some initial searching and learn about related topics
  2. Find keywords that you can use in database searches
  3. Find links to references to useful, and hopefully, credible sources

Be careful:

  1. Do not cite to Wikipedia. Since anyone can edit this online resource, it can be difficult to cite an author or evaluate that author for credibility
  2. Do not believe everything you read on Wikipedia. Try verifying the information through another credible source, like a library reference database

Narrow your Focus by Refining your Topic

Starting to Think about Keywords

The answers to the questions above will help us identify keywords to use for searching in the next steps. Note the keywords in bold. Start brainstorming some synonyms, closely related words and ideas, as well as antonyms for your keywords. For example, a movie can be called a film or a pellicola. You might also search using the keywords cinema or documentario. These terms may not be perfect synonyms, but their meanings overlap in certain contexts and can both be useful as keywords in your searches. Keep in mind, you can brainstorm synonyms in multiple languages.

Keyword 1 = Synonym 1  OR Synonym 2 OR Synonym 3


Language = Lingua OR Linguaggio OR Dialetto OR Dialect

Jargon = Gergo OR Colloquialism OR Vernacular


Research Process: Getting Started - Where to Get Ideas?

lightbulb idea icon from noun project

You can get ideas for research projects from:

  • Class readings
  • Your instructor
  • News and current events
  • Browsing background sources (aka "Reference" sources)
  • Following your curiosity

Click the link below for more information about the process of inquiry.

Research Strategies: Find Background Info

A-Z encyclopedia icon from noun project

The Library Website has a page dedicated to Research Strategies where you can explore research tips, strategies, and suggestions form your librarians. Below are links to two of our Research Strategies pages to get you started:

Background Information in Books

Books often contain general overviews of a topic. Search OneSearch or Chinook to find books on your topic. 

Books from the Catalog

The books in this section are only a small sample of what we have available through University Libraries. Use the OneSearch and/or Chinook to find more. 

Pause to Reflect

Play Pause button

Consider the scope of your research question at this point. Have you done enough background research to explore your topic further? What dates, figures, themes, or historical events do you still need to know about? 

Before going onto the next step, consider how much research it will take to answer your question. If it's a lot, you might want to narrow your focus. If, however, your question is very specific, you may have to think bigger.