ENGL 1013: Composition I

This guide presents some library resources useful for the paper assignments in Composition 1 classes.

Search Term Brainstorming

How to: Search terms for brainstorming. Four circles: One: Describe what it is you want to discuss or explore in your speech. Try writing one or two sentences that describe the point you want to communicate to the best of your ability. The second circle states: Now, circle the words in your sentence that are the most important to your topic. The third circle states, that for every word you circled. come up with a list of at least three synonyms. And the last circle states, You now have your search terms. Experiment using them inn different databases with different combinations of boolean limiters. Graphic Design: CANVA

Narrowing Down Your Topic

Alice in Wonderlanf: Drink Me to shrink John Tenniel [Public domain]Your assignment may require you to pick a topic from a broad theme or subject area, such as entertainment and media.

When your topic is too broad:

  • You may find too many sources. That makes it difficult to decide which sources are the most important.
  • The sources you find may be so general that you cannot organize your paper thoughtfully.
  • You may have too many concepts or ideas to cover in the space and time allotted for your assignment.

Here are some strategies for narrowing down your topic to a manageable size.

Strategies for Narrowing your Topic
Strategy Examples

Find your passion

Think about the aspect of the assignment that most fascinates you. This will make the whole assignment easier and even fun.

online gaming

college sports and broadcasting

music streaming


animated TV series


Population or audience


college students

single parents

urban or rural


recent immigrants


Place and Time


Sub-Saharan Africa


Great Depression


Type or Genre


reality TV





social media



compare / contrast

cause / effect

contemporary / historical

Sources: Booth, Wayne C. The Craft of Research. Fourth edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016; Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Narrowing a Topic Idea, USC Libraries; Invention. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Narrowing a Topic. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Narrowing Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Strategies for Narrowing a Topic. University Libraries. Information Skills Modules. Virginia Tech University; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Ways to Narrow Down a Topic. Contributing Authors. Utah State OpenCourseWare.

Image: John Tenniel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_par_John_Tenniel_04.png

Expanding Your Results

Alice in Wonderland, too small to reach to key Sometimes you have a really great topic but have trouble finding appropriate or adequate sources. If you topic is very narrow:

  • There may not be much published scholarship in this area, yet.
    Even if there are lots of news stories on your topic, it can take an academic article several years to be published and books can take even longer.
  • Sources may exist, but not be easy to obtain.
    They may be in a language other than English, or given as papers  at a conference but not yet published.
  • You may be the first to pursue this line of inquiry! We'll have to wait for you to publish your article!

In the meantime, here are some strategies for broadening the scope of your search.

Strategies for Broadening Your Retrieval
Strategy Examples
Use synonyms for your topic, connected by OR

film or cinema or movies

television news or broadcast news

cable subscribers and (hulu or apple or slingbox or antenna)

Use the wildcard * to retrieve alternative endings of phrases
(works in most library databases; doesn't work in Google)

child* and television and literacy

(cartoon* or animat*) and series

theat* and representation* and (hispan* or latin or chican*)

Think about the larger context

The themes you want to address may be hiding in plain sight--even if your exact topic is not mentioned by name. It's your job as a researcher to connect your specific topic to previous scholarship.

(interactive gaming or video games) and gender instead of
fps games for female players

boarding schools and YA fiction instead of
hogwarts as a model school

Follow the Footnote Trail

Footnotes in scholarly publications can lead the way to related research. Study them for leads.

Need help locating an item cited in a footnote? Ask us!.

You can also try our ArticleFinder for help in locating an item when you have a citation in hand.


Talk to Us

Don't abandon a topic you love without talking to a librarian for advice. We're here to help.


Sources: Booth, Wayne C. The Craft of Research. Fourth edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016; Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Broadening a Topic, USC Libraries; Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Getting Started With Your Research: A Self-Help Guide to Quality Information, Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Vanderbilt University; Strategies for Broadening a Topic. University Libraries. Information Skills Modules. Virginia Tech University.

Image: Gordon Robinson, Alice in Wonderland, 1916, Project Gutenberg edition, 2006 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/19033/19033-h/19033-h.htm