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ENG 165: Blast from the Past

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 Hedy Lamarr and her contributions to mathematics and technology, think of related keywords:

  • Hedy Lamarr
  • Hedy Lamarr AND mathematics
  • Hedy Lamarr AND mathematics OR technology
  • Hedy Lamarr NOT Hollywood

You can also combine "Hedy Lamarr" with some of your search terms to find articles connecting the two ideas. Unlike Google, our databases work best when using connector terms (also called Boolean Operators), such as AND, OR, and NOT.

*Tip: When using connector terms/Boolean Operators, remember that AND means you are searching both terms together. Searching Hedy Lamarr AND mathematics will get you results related to both Hedy Lamarr and mathematics.

OR gives you more results. OR tells the database that you want information about Hedy Lamarr AND mathematics OR technology, since she contributed to both fields and you want information about her contribution in both fields. 

NOT removes terms from your search. Searching Hedy Lamarr NOT Hollywood will give you results relating to Hedy Lamarr, but will exclude anything related to her Hollywood career.

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.