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ENG 102 - Heaton

Links for Library Instruction Session

We'll use these links in today's library instruction session:

Topic selection

Topic selection isn't just a matter of saying "I'm going to write about X." It's important to start out with an idea of what you're going to write about along those lines, but it's also important to start your research with some flexibility in mind.

A lot of students tend to want to start the process of writing a paper by deciding what they are going to say and then trying to find articles to support that. A better way to go is to start with a general topic, do some initial exploratory research, refine the topic a little, do some more research, and so on.

This video from the North Carolina State University libraries provides an excellent overview of the process of selecting a topic:

Brainstorm Keywords - Argumentative Essay

One of the best things about a tool like Google is that you can type natural language into the search box, just like you were asking a question to a friend, and Google will bring you back relevant results -- like it knew what you were talking about!

The downside is that not all of the information in Google would be considered reliable enough to use in a research paper. That's where library databases come in: they make finding information that is specifically more reliable and useful for academic purposes a very efficient process. Databases do, however, require a little more work out of you to get what you're looking for.

Instead of thinking in complete sentences, when we search in the databases, you need to think of your topic in its most basic terms. Think nouns, not verbs or other parts of speech.

Additionally, it's helpful to brainstorm related words that are either:

  • Related to your topic (think synonyms)
  • A little more broad than your topic (what general subject area does your topic fit into)
  • A little more specific than your original topic (While a lot of people might know generally what the gist of player safety in football refers to, the database might need specific words like helmet or concussion to get the kinds of articles we're looking for back to us.)

An example: If your topic was the vaccine debate:

  • Related to your topic: vaccines, autism, parents' rights
  • A little more broad than your topic: public health
  • A little more specific than your topic: MMR, measles, autism 

As you brainstorm keywords to search, write them down so you can search in an organized way. Trying out the keywords you've come up with one or two at a time and making notes on which ones do or don't bring back relevant results makes for a very efficient search. It will save you time in your research process.

Once you've brainstormed your keywords, you'll connect them together using the words AND and OR when you enter them into the database:

  • AND narrows your search by looking for items with all of the keywords.
  • Put AND between different concepts you want to see together in the same sources: vaccines AND autism
  • OR broadens your search by looking for items with any of the keywords.
  • Put OR between different ways of referring to the same concept: vaccines OR MMR