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URBS 150: Discover the City

What IS a Good Topic?

Choosing a good topic is a balancing act. Not too narrow. Not too broad. How can you tell if you're on the right path? 

As a general guideline, topics with 2 - 3 concepts are workable:

  • How has the development of high-speed rail affected the economic landscape of cities? 

Only one concept is too broad:

  • high-speed rail
  • city planning

More than three concepts is usually too narrow:

  • What are incentives for companies to locate around centrally located high-speed rail stations in California

The above guidelines are based on information from Walden University Library. A brief exercise in choosing the best research question is available from SUNY Empire State College.  



Picking Your Topic Is Research

This video is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license. (License, credits, and contact information)

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Also, please remember we have 24/7 support via the Ask a Librarian services found on this page of the library website.


Navigating the Library Website


Watch this video to learn how to navigate OneSearch to find materials available through the University Library.



  OneSearch Search tips 

  • Searches books, articles, videos, DVDs, images and more in University Library       
  • Good place to begin research       
  • Good for interdiscliplinary topics

Filter Results in OneSearch

Save Items in OneSearch

Don't lose track of relevant articles or books. Use Pin It feature in OneSearch -- make sure to log in with your CSUN user id and password (same as portal or Canvas). Items you pin will remain attached to your account and appear every time you log in.

What Are Scholarly Sources?

The Scholarly Sources section of the Research Strategies LibGuide gives details about how to find and read scholarly books and articles.

APA Style

In-Text Citations

"In-text citation" means that you refer to (or cite) the ideas or words of another as soon as you write about them in your paper. There are several ways to do this: using quotation marks for exact words, summarizing or condensing without changing the meaning, and paraphrasing or using your own words.

Here are specific examples of ways to handle in-text citation in APA format.

APA In-Text Citation Basics (Purdue OWL)

APA In-Text Citations Specific Examples (Purdue OWL)


Finding Background Information

New to your topic? Don't know where to start?

A helpful first step is to get a broad overview of your topic by searching an encyclopedia.  

The following are urban studies encyclopedias written by scholars in the field.  Reference works like encyclopedias provide a broad overview of a particular topic and can provide ideas for further narrowing a topic and coming up with different search terms. 


Wikipedia is another great place to start your research to get a broad over view of a topic.  Be aware that since it can be edited by anyone, not just scholars, it may contain erroneous and biased information about a topic.

Pro tip: check out the external references and links at the bottom of Wikipedia articles.  These often provide great leads and potential research sources you can cite.

Library Databases

When you want resources about a specific subject area or in a specific format (such as newspaper articles or data sets)

Use Library Databases

Best Databases for  Urban Studies & Planning

University Library Databases -- listed by subject, type and name


Database Tips

Database (examples: Academic Search Premier, GreenFILE, GeoRef)

  • Searches articles, book chapters, reports, newsletters only in that database
  • Good for in-depth scholarly works on narrow topics
  • Use Advanced Search Option to separate and clarify search terms & keywords
  • Limit by publication date, resource type (for example, peer reviewed/scholarly) and more. Specific limiters available in some databases (examples below from EBSCO)

  • Sign up for database account to keep records permanently available (example below from EBSCO)




Citation Managers: What are They and Why Use Them?

Citation Managers are bibliographic management programs that will help you keep track of articles and books as you find them, organize your references and create bibliographies in 100s of citation styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, etc.)

They will also allow you to:

  • Import citations as you research from databases and catalogs
  • Save and organize citations
  • Attach PDFs of articles, when available
  • Embed citations (footnotes or in-text) into your word processing documents
  • Collaborate with others online
  • Discover the latest research

The most popular citation managers are EndNote and Zotero. Below are their differences. Remember to always check with your professor if you are not sure.

EndNote - Web version (EndNote Online or EndNote Basic) free to anyone; integrates with MS Word; the Instruction Labs at the University Library have the Cite-While-You-Write plug-in on Word for students to access their EndNote web accounts

Zotero - Free to anyone; integrates with MS Word and/or Google Docs; must be installed on your own computer 

Zoterobib- Free to anyone; allows you to create an instant bibliography from your browser on any devices.

For a chart comparison of citation managers click on Research Strategies, Citation Managers 

Citation Managers: How-to Guides and Tutorials

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