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I'm new to GIS, trying to generate random points within a polygon in QGIS 2.18.7 through the GUI.

I go to:

Vector/Research Tools/Random points inside polygons (fixed) This menu prompts me to select my input layer. But no layers are available from the pull down menu. How do I get my project layers to be available through this pull down menu?

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The list is populated with the suitable layers that are in your project, i.e that appear in your layer panel and that are of the polygon type. If the layer is missing, you can add it as @firefly-orange has described, or you can, within the tool, use the button with the 3 dots to browse to your layer.

Random point tool, browse to layer option

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you need to go to layer > Add Layer > Add Vector Layer

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