ENGL 127 Research Writing: Social Sciences (Schaefer)

This research guide is for students in Amanda Schaefer's English 127: Focus on Family & Home

Mapping a Topic

Getting Started on your Seminar

Map out the Connections

Step 1: Start with what you know & what to know

Brainstorm ways in which your umbrella topic can be focused into related subtopics and questions.

Step 2: Use library resources to explore different aspects of your starting topic. 

Type your group topic into the library's One Search. Look over the results of your search to get a sense of the range of issues that connect to your starting topic. 

  • Pro Tip 1: Try search terms that capture a topic from different points of view. Ex: "home owners" OR renters
  • Pro Tip 2: Put phrases in quotes to keep your search words together. Ex: "American dream"
  • Pro Tip 3: If you see a title that looks intriguing or it's unclear what the source is about, click on the title and scroll down the page. Read the description and review the associated Subject Terms to get a sense of the source is about. Subject Terms are also a great way to find specialized vocabulary on a topic, and if you click on one, it links to other library resources on the same subject. 
Step 3: Create a Concept Map of your group presentation (*and later of your individual essay)

Understand the landscape of your topic

Try the resources and tips below to help you map out your topic and find a strong group focus and strong individual focus. 

Browse GVRL:

Skim over the list of articles you get. Do any connecting topics pop out at you? (Write them down!)

Search GVRL:

Try a more strategic search. Type in one or two words that capture more specific aspects of that umbrella topic. For ex: 

  • for Education, I might type in "community colleges" or "first-year students"
  • for Equality, I might type in "equal rights" or "affirmative action" or "racial equity"

Browse CQ Researcher:

CQ Researcher is a library database of thorough, well-researched reports on a wide range of current topics. CQ Researcher is set up so that it starts with broad topics and then, as you click on topics, it leads down to more specific topic reports. This is a great way to find subtopics and if you end up writing about a topic covered in a current CQ report, you will have a great source of reliable info and leads to much more.

Search the Web

Type your topics into a Google search bar. Skim the list of results for connecting ideas. (Do not open/click on any of the results. You are just looking for connecting ideas!)

Google Web Search

Picking Your Topic Is Research

Creating a Concept Map

Research is a process and your topic will evolve.

A topic map, also called a concept map, is a helpful way to start to identify:

  • areas for research
  • key words to use in research
  • possible ways to narrow and focus your research project. You may start with one topic in the center and end up writing in depth about one of the connected subtopics you identified.
Topic Scope:

As you research and learn, you may find you need to go narrower or broader, or slightly change your focus.

  • Based on the background information you gather, you may decide to slightly change your topic focus - that's ok and is a normal part of research!
  • You may find too much information to wade through, so you will need to narrow your topic.
  • You may find too little information, so you will need to broaden your topic and focus.