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ENGL 1301/1302: Research Starter Guide

Select & Focus Topic

Now that you have carefully read and understand your assignment, it is time to select a topic and focus on what aspect(s) of that topic will be the basis of your assignment.

Note: a research topic ≠ a research question


If your professor assigned your topic, great!  Then you're most of the way there.  However, if the assigned topic was a general idea or you've been given the task of selecting your own topic, its time to brainstorm!  Below are sample databases that may aid in that process.


NC State University Libraries. (2013, August). Picking Your Topic IS Research. [Video file]. Retrieved from

 Video by NC State University Libraries

Keywords: Where to Start

person writing
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Before you start searching for books or articles, take a moment to think about what you will search for.

Write down keywords, phrases, names, and/or topics that might relate to your topic.

  • Think about synonyms or words with related meanings. For example: womenfemales, wives,....  
  • Put phrases (multiple words that need to be together in a certain order) inside "quotation marks."

How do you come up with the words to write down?

  • Use your textbook (or assigned reading) to help you get started.
  • Brainstorm with your roommate, a classmate, or other trusted friend to also come up with words (they may have different experiences that lead to different terms).
  • Read encyclopedia entries about a related person, place, event, or concept to get ideas for more words. Try the Library's Reference Universe.
  • As you find sources, see what language they use and add new terms to your list to help you refine additional searches.
  • Do a Google or Wikipedia search to try and locate historical synonyms for the modern term you know.

Still stuck?  Visit with a librarian to talk through your ideas.

  • Connect virtually through (See the "Ask Us Now" link on this page)
  • Schedule time with your subject librarian (there is a librarian assigned to each degree plan at SHSU).


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