Topic Finder: The Perfect Tool for Both New and Experienced Researchers

By Dale Prentiss

Ruth Diggory is head librarian for ATA College, a medical career school in Kentucky and Florida that serves a broad demographic of students. As such, she needed to offer her students tools that can assist them in their research needs, regardless of their level of experience. Recently, Ruth has discovered that Gale’s Topic Finder tool is the perfect resource for her diverse needs.

“The biggest problem students have in writing papers,” she says, “is that they’re not sure where to go, when given a general topic.” It takes a lot of experience and confidence to come up with a range of subtopics, and then to find articles that expand on those subtopics.” Say that a student was assigned an essay about guns. By accessing the Topic Finder tool in PowerSearch, searching Opposing Viewpoints in Context content, she can quickly show her students a visualization of the key themes and resources represented by this broad topic. A simple search of the keyword “guns” provides easy and organized access to such specific topics as handguns, rifles, ammunition, and cannons, or larger topics as the Bill of Rights, gun laws, crime, and drugs.


“Across the board,” Ruth says, “students feel more comfortable using databases after being introduced to the Topic Finder. And especially for the less experienced students, many of whom are not even sure what a database is, the Topic Finder is an introductory tool making them more confident and comfortable using databases.” After being exposed to the Topic Finder, Ruth says, the students are far more likely to take their research to the next level by exploring the advanced search functions within the same database. After all, Topic Finder is always just a click away, should they get lost.

“What else can I say about Topic Finder?” Ruth summarizes. “It’s just a really cool tool!”


Dale PrentissAbout the Author

Dale Prentiss is a customer care consultant for academic libraries at Gale. His perspective is sympathetic to the academic librarians he works with: he has always been a research addict and a library lover; his love of learning led to a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Stanford University; and he loves to teach (he’s also a Special Lecturer at Oakland University). In other words, he sees the role of librarian, faculty, and student pretty realistically.


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