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Assignment | Essay (Reeves): Narrowing Your Topic

Spring 2019 | ENGL 1302 | Prof. Reeves

The Process

1. Choose a topic.

It's harder than it sounds to pick a topic when you have the option of just about anything in the world to research. So how do you start? With research!

It's not as much of a chicken-and-egg situation as it sounds. (Highly recommend the video over to the right!) Think of something that interests you (a hobby, a passing interest, something that caught your attention in the news). It doesn't have to immediately relate to your assignment!

Let's say you like eating cheese. Yes, really. 

Step 2 - background info

You start with some background research through Wikipedia or, better...

This gives you background info and context for what the heck is going on with cheese (the types, the production process, ethical issues, maybe some tangents into vegetarianism and veganism, cultural history, recipes, lactose intolerance, -- see there's a lot to be said about even cheese!).

Too much, actually. You can't adequately address all these things in a 5 page paper. This where we zig-zag a little to start narrowing things down.

Back to step 1

At this stage, it can be helpful to organize all the things you're learning about in a list or a mind map, which will help you see the connections and where you've been getting lots of details. Your core research (and the argument you're pursuing) should be based on the evidence you've found, rather than picking a stance and seeking specific evidence to support it.

If you try to retroactively cherry-pick sources for your stance, you might be backing yourself into a corner, especially if it's a topic you don't actually know much about. Suddenly, when you try to locate sources, you may find that you just can't find any.

Makes things easier for yourself: go where the research leads you.

Credo Reference: MIndMap

Develop Your Search

Once you know your topic and your research question, you need to figure out how you're going to find more in-depth information.

First, pick out the key terms from your research question: 

What effects on the education system does racial discrimination have?

Next, you'll want to brainstorm some related and alternate terms for these keywords to give you some variability in your search strategies.

 Effects Education Racial (Race) Discrimination
Impact Public schools Ethnicity Prejudice
Results Charter schools Specific examples: black, Hispanic, etc Bias
Graduation rates K-12/primary   Advantages/
disadvantages
Completion rates Secondary school   Inequity, inequality
Retention rates School funding   Affirmative action
Education gap Socioeconomic clusters in school zoning    
       

You may also want to try drawing out a mind map at this stage. Text 2 Mind Map is an online tool to try if you want a digital mind map.

Topic Selection (Video: 3:08)