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English 205 (Carmichael): Getting Started

Your Librarian

Jeannette Moss's picture
Jeannette Moss
Contact:
University Library
2 North (Core) Rm. 2303
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
847-491-2169
Tracy Coyne's picture
Tracy Coyne
Contact:
312.503.6617
tracy-coyne@northwestern.edu
339 E. Chicago Ave., 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60611

Develop your research question / Narrow your topic

[Relevant Information Literacy Frame: RESEARCH AS INQUIRY] 
[Relevant Information Literacy Frame: SEARCHING AS STRATEGIC EXPLORATION]

Somewhere in between your initial idea and settling on a research question, you'll need to do background research on how scholars in a particular subject area have discussed your topic. You may find background research in your textbook or class readings, academic books in the library's collection, or reference sources.

The databases below compile reference sources from a variety of disciplines, and they can be a great way to consider how your topic has been studied from different angles.

Use NU Search to browse for books, reference entries, and periodicals to build background information.

 

[Relevant Information Literacy Frame: RESEARCH AS INQUIRY] 

[Relevant Information Literacy Frame: SEARCHING AS STRATEGIC EXPLORATION]

After you have an initial project idea, you can think deeper about the idea by developing a "Topic + Question + Significance" sentence. This formula came from Kate Turabian's Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. Turabian notes that you can use it plan and test your question, but do not incorporate this sentence directly into your paper (p. 13):

TOPIC: I am working on the topic of __________,
QUESTION: because I want to find out __________,
SIGNIFICANCE: so that I can help others understand __________.

Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Having trouble?

  • Which specific subset of the topic you can focus on? Specific people, places, or times?
  • Is there a cause and effect relationship you can explore?
  • Is there something about this topic that is not addressed in scholarship?

Turabian, Kate L. Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.

 

Additional things to think about when you need to narrow down your topic!

From USC Library: "Strategies for narrowing down your topic."

[Relevant Information Literacy Frame: SEARCHING AS STRATEGIC EXPLORATION]

How do you move from a research question to searching in a database? You first have to pick out keywords from your research question.