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English Composition LAN 101: Narrowing the Topic

Suggested Materials for the Argumentative Essay Assignment

Asking the Right Questions

A couple of guidelines for developing a good research question:

A question that can be answered within the parameters that the professor has given you. 

Not to narrow- that a couple of facts could answer it "Has the population of the earth increased in the last century"

Not to broad- that you would have to write a whole book or that can't really be answered "Why do some countries a higher population than others?"

Quantifiable- Have to be able to measurable outcomes

Some questions to help  specify your research question are the:

who – a person, organization, or demographic group of interest 

what – an event, a theory, a discovery connected to the topic

where – a city, state, country or geographic region.

when – a time span, century, period of time. Often times the “when” is part of the parameters of the assessment

why – describe what is notable about this topic, or what interests you about the topic.

Broaden and Narrowing

EXPAND your search results: 

  • Mix and match search terms: think through a wide variety of ways the author may describe the topic. (War- conflict, fighting, combat, hostilities) 
  • Use a different database, or search across the databases: databases are often dedicated to a specific subject. So  PsycINFO (a psychology database) and Sports Discus (Sports and Health Management) are not where you should be looking for Biblical Information.  Use the All Subjects drop down menu to find the databases that relate to a certain subject area such as Bible and Theology.

NARROWING your search results:

  • Use more limiters in the tool bar. Limiters include items such as; publication date, peer-reviewed, scholarly, or full text.
  • It is better if you specify your search terms. Instead of  "civil war"  try "American civil war" or "Civil war, United States". Choose terms that better describe the topic.

Borrow from the Experts

Based on the reference sources consulted:

  • Compile a list of terms used by the authors and experts of the general works
  • Compile a list of main concepts and issues mentioned in these works
  • Consult at the citations in the general source, Bibliographies and Works Cited

Books & Scholarly Journals

Books & Scholarly Journals: In-depth articles with more detailed information about the topic.

Where to start:  

Research GuidesA-Z Databases (listed by subject) and Library Search Box

Magazines & Newspapers

Magazines, Newspapers: contemporary overviews and public opinion regarding your topic at a given time.

Where to start:

Library Search BoxIssues and Controversies database and News & Newspapers

Resources: Scholarly v. Popular