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WRT 200/205/208/220

A guide to support research assignments in 200-level writing classes.

Selecting a Topic

You need to have a good topic before you start your research.  Here are a few things to consider when choosing a research topic.

  • Try to go with a topic that is actually of interest to you, rather than a 'standard' topic.  Your professors have already read way too many papers on abortion and gun control.  They would rather read something new.
  • Review the research assignment very carefully. A prof's requirements for certain types of sources and the length of the paper may help shape your approach.
  • Almost any subject can be researched, though some topics don't lend themselves to scholarly sources.
  • Narrow your topic to a specific research question or thesis.  "Global warming" is too big a topic unless you are writing a book.  "Global warming is resulting in a rise in sea levels that will threaten American coastal cities" is much more manageable.

HELP VIDEO: Selecting a Topic

Stuck for topic ideas?  This video will give you some suggestions of where to look for research topics.



What are keywords?

Keywords are simply the words that you put in any search box.

Where do I get my keywords?

If your professor has you write your research topic out as either a thesis statement or a research question, that is a good starting point.  Look for the major nouns in the sentence.  Verbs and little words like pronouns, particles, and prepositions (the, a, they, to, on, of, it, about, etc.) are used so much that they don't add anything to your search.  The sentence below shows all those little words removed.

So from the sentence above, I would enter just the nouns hydraulic fracturing, contamination, and water.

What if I don't get great results?

The English language is very large and is full of synonyms and words/phrases that represent similar or overlapping concepts.  For example, instead of the word teens, an author might use any of the following:  teenagers, adolescents, young adults, or youth.

From the example above:

hydraulic fracturing could also be called fracking, and

contamination could be replaced with pollution.

Even changing a single word can have a great affect on your search results.  The Keywords video below shows this in action.

HELP VIDEO: Keywords

See an example of how changing keywords changes search results.  This video uses the "hydraulic fracturing" example used in the keywords discussion in the left-hand column.

Source Types

HELP VIDEO: Scholarly vs. Popular

This video is a companion to the "Source Types" chart on the left, covering in more detail the difference between popular sources (e.g., websites, newspaper, and magazine articles) and scholarly sources.

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