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ENGL 102/108: Research Guide

Turning an idea into a research project

Follow these steps

  1. Choose your topic.
  2. Find the best keywords.
  3. Understand different types of sources.
  4. Modify your search.
  5. Evaluate your sources.
  6. Integrate sources into your paper.

Get more help

For instructors

See our guide to facilitating undergraduate English Composition courses:
English Composition Instructor Resources

Find the best keywords

Often you'll need to come up with different words to search than the words in your research question.

Try lots of different keyword combinations until you find the ones that gives you the best, most relevant results. 

Example

Research question: How can students get involved in fighting for social justice issues?

Questions to think about

1. What type of students? (High school? college? other?)

2. What sorts of social justice issues?

3. Does "get involved" mean as an occupation, as a volunteer or as a researcher? (or something else?)

Answer these questions to come up with the most useful keywords.

Identify key terms

Research question: How can students get involved in fighting for social justice issues?

If you only used words from your research question you would use:
students, involvement, social justice.

But you may be able to find better, additional words to use in your search.

Example: Say your interest lies more in how college students can seek leadership roles in supporting (or fighting against) DACA. 

  1. What synonyms or related terms are there for this research question?

  2. Examples include university, organizing (or organization), dreamers, immigration, border, refugees

Compiling and using synonyms and related terms ensures you don’t miss any articles that might be important for your research.

Now you’re ready to do a search.

Learn more

Use this handy tool to help you come up with more keywords:
Mind Mapping for Focusing Your Topic