Resources for English Composition Instructors
Last modified: December 3, 2013
Choose Your Own Topic
Step 1: Explore topics
Go to at least one of these places to get ideas for your topic:
- CQ Researcher
Use to explore current and controversial topics and get in-depth, high-quality articles.
- Times Topics
Use to find New York Times coverage by topic. Each one, from Facebook to global warming, includes breaking news, archival content, and tons of multimedia.
- Open Democracy
Use to find news analysis and debates related to human rights and democracy worldwide.
Use to find contemporary controversial issues in a pro-con format.
Step 2: Select and narrow a topic
Select one of these two activities:
- Activity 1: Mind Map your topic
- Activity 2: Complete the table to develop a focused question
Step 3: Confirm that you have selected a researchable topic
- Complete the Academic Search Complete tutorial
- Select key terms from your research question
- Conduct a preliminary search with your terms in Academic Search Complete
Too much information? Make your results more manageable. Less, but more relevant, information is key. Consider these options when narrowing the scope of your paper:
- Theoretical approach: Limit your topic to a particular approach to the issue. For example, if your topic concerns cloning, examine the theories surrounding of the high rate of failures in animal cloning.
- Aspect or sub-area: Consider only one piece of the subject. For example, if your topic is human cloning, investigate government regulation of cloning.
- Time: Limit the time span you examine. For example, on a topic in genetics, contrast public attitudes in the 1950s versus the 1990s.
- Population group: Limit by age, sex, race, occupation, species or ethnic group. For example, on a topic in genetics, examine specific traits as they affect women over 40 years of age.
- Geographical location: A geographic analysis can provide a useful means to examine an issue. For example, if your topic concerns cloning, investigate cloning practices in Europe or the Middle East.
Not finding enough information? Think of related ideas, or read some additional background information first. You may not be finding enough information for several reasons, including:
- Your topic is too specific. Generalize what you are looking for. For example, if your topic is genetic diversity for a specific ethnic group in Ghana, Africa, broaden your topic by generalizing to all ethnic groups in Ghana or in West Africa.
- Your topic is too new for anything substantive to have been written. If you're researching a recently breaking news event, you are likely to only find information about it in the news media. Be sure to search databases that contain articles from newspapers. If you are not finding enough in the news media, consider changing your topic to one that has been covered more extensively.
- You have not checked enough databases. Use the subject list of databases to find other databases which might cover the topic from a different perspective.
- You are using less common words or too much jargon to describe your topic. Use a thesaurus to find other terms to represent your topic. When reading background information, note how your topic is expressed in these materials. When you find citations in an article database, see how the topic is described by experts in the field.
(adapted from MIT Libraries)
Step 4: Continue locating information to support your research proposal
Select at least two of these resources to locate more information for your topic:
- Complete Searching the Library Catalog (tutorial) then go to the catalog to find books and ebooks on your topic.
- Complete Searching JSTOR (tutorial) then go to JSTOR to locate scholarly journal articles from a wide array of subject areas.
- Complete Searching LexisNexis Academic (tutorial) then go to LexisNexis to locate local, national, and international newspaper articles on your topic.
Step 5: Use specialized databases and citation chaining to find more resources and to continue to refine your topic
- Select a subject specific database to locate additional resources
- Use Finding an Article When You Have a Citation (tutorial) to help you locate the articles cited within other articles you find
Step 6: Cite your sources
Last modified: December 4, 2013
Beginning the Research
Once students have chosen a suitable topic, they should begin the process of locating background information. CQ Researcher is a great starting point. You can also encourage students to use the encyclopedias on the English Composition Course Page in order to locate some articles for background reading.
Students hold off using databases until they have a firm grasp on their topic. This means being able to discuss it some and having a list of keywords that they will able to use for searching. The Coming Up with Keywords exercise should help with this.
Students are used to searching Google but searching Library databases can be quite different. Make sure your students are aware of the differences between Google and library databases with this exercise: Google vs. library databases
Once students have a solid foundation for their topic or research question, have them complete the Academic Search Complete Tutorial.
If you want students to use a book, have them complete the UA Library Catalog. Once they finish this tutorial, you can ask them to visit the Library and get a book. This exercise will help them find a book in the library: Find a Book for Your Essay
Other Suggested Exercises
Beginning Research, Online Searching Tutorial
You can assign this tutorial to students or show it in class. This tutorial takes students through the process of selecting and using key words effectively.
Academic Search Complete Features
Students become familiar with the some of the features of Academic Search Complete through different searches. This is a good exercise to check for students' ability to use ASC.
Library Research Exercise
A good exercise to have students do independently or as a class. This exercise asks students to develop some search strategies and then try them out in a library database.
Find a Book Exercise
A great exercise to help students find a book using the Library Catalog.
Last modified: December 3, 2013
Furthering Students' Research
Using Additional Databases
The suggested exercise below will help students become familiar with different databases:
Students identify a relevant database and take steps to locate an article. Students are also asked to evaluate and share database features with classmates. This a good exercises for group work.
Scholarly and Popular Articles
Students locate and compare two different articles, one popular and one scholarly on the same topic.
Many students will start their research with a web engine search. This exercise asks students to evaluate two websites critically and then make a conclusion as to whether or not they are reliable resources.
Last modified: December 4, 2013
Using the Research
Once students have found and, of course, read their sources, it is time for them to start integrating those sources in their papers. Students need to be made aware of both why and how they should use these sources. You can implement some strategies from the onset of the semester to avoid student plagiarism: Best Practices for Reducing Plagiarism.
In order for students to understand the why, you can have them view these tutorials from YouTube either in class or on their own. They are a fun way to introduce students to the importance of citing sources and the penalties of plagiarizing.
In addition, you should also have students view the Accidental Plagiarism tutorial on the English Course Guide page.
In order for students to better understand MLA, you can direct them to the Citation Guide.
Missing Citation Information
In this short exercise, students are asked to locate the missing parts of a citation by using the Library Catalog or a database.
In this exercise, students are given a list of citations and must rewrite them in MLA style.
Last modified: January 30, 2012