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ENGL 101: Introduction to Literature

Prof. DeHainaut

Deciding on a Topic

Deciding on a topic can be one of the hardest parts of research, especially when the instructor's prompt is vague, or you are giving the option of writing about anything that you want! Deciding on a topic can be one of the most important parts of the research process, so if you are having trouble deciding on a topic, below are some strategies.

  • Consider what topics are new or relevant to your major? What interests let you to choose that major in the first place?
  • Review your class notes. What topics have you already talked about in this class (or others) that peak your interest.
  • What hobbies/interests do you have outside of class? Did you play sports or like to garden? How might you combine those interests with the class topics.
  • Explore current events or new resources. Is there an issue or event that interests you?

Additional Resources to help get you started

Search Terms and Keywords

Once you decide on a topic, then you have to start searching for outside sources. Typing your entire topic sentence or thesis into a search box isn't the most effective way to search. Below are some strategies to search more efficiently.

  • Isolate the main terms/concepts of your topic. These should be 2 or 3 words or phrases.
    • Example topic: "How does climate change effect the population of penguins" 
      • search terms/keywords - penguins, climate change, population.
  • Consider any synonyms or alternate terms you might use to describe these concepts. They may be more specific or broader than your original search terms.
    • examples: global warming, sea temperatures, emperor penguins, sea birds, habitats, nesting sites
  • Utilizing the database's subject terms. Most of the library's databases will assign subject terms to each book or article. Review these subject terms to be sure you are on the right track, or to ID some additional terms you haven't considered.

Remember to keep notes on each search combination. What keywords/search terms worked, and which ones didn't.

Additional Resources to help you identify search terms/keywords