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WR 122: Written Reasoning as a Process of Argument

College Composition II

Finding a topic

Getting Started 

  • Make sure you understand your assignment. Talk to your professor or graduate assistant if you have any questions.
  • Think about your interests. What would you like to spend time learning more about? Write down a list of keywords and phrases that interest you.
  • Use a topic ideas database such as CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints in Context (Gale). Read current periodicals, browse the internet, and check out reference resources and encyclopedias such as Gale Virtual Reference Library
  • Be careful not to pick a topic too narrow or too broad. You might not be able to find enough relevant information or you might be overwhelmed with too much information. As you start your research, you might need to adjust your topic. See below for narrowing/broadening tips.
  • Check out the Research Guide for your subject area, which will include links to helpful resources commonly used by researchers. Our subject specialist librarians create these guides -- contact yours with questions and to get personalized help with your research. 
Databases:

Mind Mapping to Narrow or Broaden a Topic

If you're not sure where to start with your research question, create a mind map and use the 6 question words to think about your topic.

Mind Map with 6 question words surrounding it

Mind Maps by Tom Peterson © 2013 Thunderhead Works. All Rights Reserved. Used for educational purposes only under Fair Use.

Narrowing/broadening a topic tips

Narrowing

If your topic is broad, consider asking yourself the 6 Ws (who, what, when, where, why, and how) and trying a combination of these elements with your broad topic:

  • WHO: Population (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.)
  • WHAT: Type based on the topic (example: topic is renewable energy, types could be wind energy, solar energy, etc.)
  • WHEN: Choose a timeframe (time period or time in life)
  • WHERE: Choose a location (states, region, country, etc.)
  • WHY: Why does it matter to research this topic?
  • HOW: How will I go about finding information on this topic?

Examples with the topic concussions in sports:

  • WHO: Kid sports and concussions
  • WHAT: Kids and football concussions
  • WHEN: College football players and concussions
  • WHERE: Concussions of college football players in the United States
  • WHY: Effects of concussions on college football players later in life
  • HOW: Searching sports databases and journals and medical magazines and newspapers

Research Question: What is the effect on adults of sports concussions received in childhood?


Broadening Image of magnifying glass (search icon) and text "sorry, no results found."

If you're not finding information on your topic, it might be too narrow and needs to be broadened. Consider removing a word or element from your research question/thesis/topic.

Image from Unbxd, all rights reserved. Used for educational purposes only under Fair Use.

The Information Life Cycle (Video Tutorial)

Check out this short video from UNLV Libraries on the information life cycle to understand the effects of time on the types (formats) of information that are shared and published. This video will help you understand what kinds of information are available to help you answer your research question and how they get created. 

Step 1 - Pause to Reflect

Step one not only requires that you come up wth a research question or topic that is narrow enough to explore for an undergraduate research paper, but it also requires that you consider what type of information you will need to find in order to answer your research question.

  1. Is your topic so large you could write a whole book or PhD thesis on it? If so, you should try to narrow your topic down to something manageable within the time you have and the number of pages or words your instructor is requiring.
  2. Is your topic so specific that you can't find information about it? Go to step 3 to learn how to search more strategically and broaden your search out a bit.
  3. Do you need some basic facts, dates, or names of historical people or specific theories? If so, go on to step 2: Find Background Information.
  4. When you are ready, go to step 3 to learn how and where to search for information on your topic.

Mt Hood reflected in Mirror Lake, Oregon.

 Mount Hood reflected in Mirror Lake, Oregon, USA. Image in Public Domain.

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