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Assignment | Research Paper: Humans in a Digital World (Khalaf): Getting Started

ENGL 1301 | Professor Paula Khalaf (Spring 2023)



Topic, Research Question, Thesis

First, you develop and narrow down your topic -- the general idea of what you're going to be researching. From that, you need to develop your research question, i.e. what is the question you are attempting to answer by doing your research? This, in turn, will form the basis for your paper's thesis (your claim/argument/answer) which you'll explicitly state in your introduction.

From your central topic, you develop your research question(s) to investigate, and then finally develop a thesis statement which answers your chosen question.

Building Out a Topic (To Narrow Down Later)

Fake News is near the center of the image, surrounded by empty space.

Start off with your theme or initial topic idea.

Start writing down what comes to mind -- what do you already know about this central idea? Include specific examples, keywords, causes, impacts... throw everything at the wall now. We'll worry about what sticks later.

Each of the branches has gained sub-branches of its own. E.g. Social Media goes out to Twitter, Facebook, which branch into advertising and bots and viral content.

Don't stop with just one layer of ideas -- keep drilling deeper!

Once you get stuck, start doing some not-really-research. Hit up Google, Wikipedia, your textbook, and so to get some more bits and pieces to add in.

The entire image is now covered in words and ideas related to fake news with some arrows criss-crossing between ideas that reconnect to each other.

You may have started out thinking you knew what that central idea would involve, but now you can see how big (and how many possible directions for research) there really are!

Now that you can see what's going on, consider where your connections are strongest, or where you've made the most most, or what seems most interesting to you.

What are you asking yourself about those ideas? How do they relate to each other? What do you want to find out more of?

This view represents one possibility for a narrower topic. We might ask,

  • How does the psychology of confirmation bias contribute to the spread (or maybe creation) of fake news?
  • How can people recognize and overcome their personal biases?

Another possibility...

  • Is fake news inherent to social media?
  • What has fake news looked liked through history, prior to the Internet?

... and another possibility.

  • Do limits on free speech apply to misinformation shared on private social networks?
  • Does (or should) the government have the power to regulate information shared on social media in order to protect the public interest?

Organize Your Brainstorm

Organize Your Thoughts with a Mind Map

Mind maps are a great tool to help you organize your thoughts and see new information or connections that you might not have previously been aware of.  As you develop your mind map, narrow your topic down from a broad topic to a specific research question. You will use this research question, and the keywords you've identified on your mind map, to search the library databases for resources.  As you utilize the research databases, continue to fill in information on your mind map to help you see if there are gaps in your research that you need to address.

Get More Ideas Using...

Google Web Search



PowerNotes is a research manager that works on anything you can open in your browser. Save and organize quotes as you research so you've got an outline ready to go. The built-in citation tool can export a bibliography.

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