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ENGL B1A: Contemporary Issues: Getting Started

For Cara Warwick's & Justin Bell's ENGL B1A


Before you start your research, you need to create a narrow research topic or question that fits the scope of your assignment.  You also need search terms that describe your topic so that you can use them to find sources for your topic. This page will help you do these things.

Narrowing Your Topics

Examples of Narrowing Down Your Topic

Use the last column to help you develop your research question.  

Research Question=the question your paper is trying to answer

Further Topic Narrowing Help

Topic Finding: Gale Opposing Viewpoints

Feeling lost on your topic? Need subtopic ideas? Try out the Topic Finder on Gale Opposing Viewpoints. Type in your topics and immediately get ideas on how to narrow it to specific subtopics. Once you narrow down to a subtopic, you can then look at articles. Look at the screenshots below to learn how to find the Topic Finder feature. 



When a professor assigns a research project or a research paper, they will most often give you a broad topic (often called an "umbrella topic") for you to use as your guide in your research. This will be a topic that you've likely talked about in class for at least 1 or 2 class sessions, and you have probably had some readings or assignments based on this topic. This means this topic is too broad for you to use it in a research paper of 15 pages or less without you narrowing it significantly. Umbrella topics have many different aspects to them, whereas a good topic for a shorter research paper such as you will be assigned should only have 1 or 2 aspects for you to cover. 

Narrowing your topic can be the most difficult part of a research paper. Once you find and select a topic, the most helpful thing to do is brainstorm. Brainstorming a topic allows you to consider different aspects of it, so that you can then narrow your topic into a single research question. The easiest way to brainstorm is to do some background research. Below are some great online sources for background research:

Books and encyclopedias are also a great place to go for background information. Check out the Finding Reference & Finding Books tabs at the top for more information. 

Brainstorming via Concept Map

One of the easiest way to brainstorm is to create a concept map. The idea is to put your umbrella topic in the middle and place a large circle around it. While you do background research you can start to fill in your map with subtopics. Think about the five W's (who, what, where, when, why). You may also want to consider time, location, area of study and genre.  



You can either do your concept map on a piece of paper OR you can use free online tools that allow you to create them virtually. Check out the link below to create a concept map online:


From Concept Map to Research Question

Developing a Thesis Statement

Thesis Statement=your answer to your essential(research) question; your position on the topic; the main idea of the paper

A well-written thesis statement has two parts:

1.The answer to your essential (research) question (your position).
2.Your reasons (supporting arguments). 


My essential (research) question=  Should smoking be banned in public places?