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ENGL15 Rhetoric and Composition (Reed)

This guide is for Stephen Reed's sections of ENGL15.

Brainstorm: What Information Do You Need?

Consider the assignment and your topic. What information do you need to support your thesis? For Essay 2, here are a few types of information that may fill your need.

  • Background information on your conspiracy theory
  • Information on logical fallacies
  • Evidence related to the causes and effects of the conspiracy theory.

Plan: Where Do You Search?

When deciding where to look for the best information on your topic, here are a few factors to consider:

  • Is your topic well-established, or is it recent or lesser-known?
  • Do you want to know what non-academics or conspiracy theorists themselves think about this topic?
  • Do you need background information on fallacies, psychology, or conspiracy theories in general?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you'll want to consult either scholarly sources or popular sources. For this class, both types of sources are essential for a well-researched paper. For information on how to find both types of sources, see the next page, "Finding Sources".

Scholarly sources: Also known as 'academic sources.' These sources are written by experts who are often researchers and professors, and include books and journal articles. Scholarly sources generally cost money, and must be accessed through the Penn State University Libraries' search engine LionSearch (or through another institution).
Popular sources: These sources by people who are not scholarly experts. In this context, "popular" means "of the people" (i.e. intended for the general public) rather than the more common definition of "widely enjoyed or admired." Popular sources include newspaper articles, non-scholarly books, blog posts and websites. Some popular sources can be accessed through Google or other search engines.
Interviews or Podcasts: These sources can be particularly rich for current and hot topics, or background information on conspiracy theories. They are generally considered popular, but may feature scholarly hosts or guests.

Strategize: What Keywords Should You Use?

Once you've decided what information you need and where to search for it, you need to come up with some search terms, also known as keywords. Generally, it's a good idea to brainstorm some core concepts, then come up with alternatives like synonyms, broader terms and narrower terms to cover more ground. One good trick is to find a basic source on your topic like a Wikipedia article, then pull keywords from that source.

When you use the keywords to conduct a search, another good trick is to put quotation marks around terms that you want to find exact matches for. In both Google and LionSearch, this will search for those exact terms in that exact order, which will narrow your results and make them more relevant.

Let's take Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories as an example. 

  • Core concepts: "Moon landing", "conspiracy theories" 
  • Synonyms: "Moon landing hoax" "Apollo program" "conspiracy theories"
  • Broader terms: NASA
  • Narrower terms (discovered with the help of the Wikipedia article): "Apollo 11 missing tapes" "Stanley Kubrick"
Keywords: Key concepts or terms related to your information need​.