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History 115 - Civil War Documentary Project

3. Narrow Your Topic

Narrow SignOnce you've done some initial background reading, it's time to narrow down your topic to what you really want to focus on.  Remember your assignment requirements and consider what you've read thus far.

Ask yourself:

What aspect of the topic do I want to focus on?

What interests me about the topic?

What do I want to write about?

As you start to narrow this down into a topic/thesis, you'll want to continue to look for more sources. As you research, you might tweak or adjust your topic/thesis.  In order to help you find more related sources about your topic, you'll want to identify keywords to help you search.


As you think about what concepts you want to research, think about what particular words might be found in a good article about that topic.  For instance, if you are writing about the Assault on Battery Wagner, think of related keywords:

  • Assault on Battery Wagner
  • Fort Wagner
  • Fort Wagner AND Civil War
  • 54th Massachusetts Infantry
  • African American soldiers OR black soldiers

You can also combine "Fort Wagner" with some of your search terms to find articles connecting the two ideas. Unlike Google, our databases work best when using connector terms, such as AND or OR.

When using connector terms (also called Boolean Operators), remember that AND means you are searching both terms together. Searching Fort Wagner AND Civil War will get you results related to both Fort Wagner and the Civil War.

OR gives you more results. OR tells the database that you want information about the African American soldiers OR black soldiers, since those are both names for the same term. 

Keywords work best by trial-and-error. Never do only one search. Some keywords will work better than others, and some keywords may lead you to different articles than you found in your first search.  Search the databases with the keywords you selected to find relevant articles. And remember to ask a librarian if you need assistance coming up with keywords or looking for sources