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ENG 206: Heart of Darkness (Grigg)

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 Heart of Darkness 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.

Keywords

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 theme of insanity in Heart of Darkness, think of the following keywords:

  • insanity AND Heart of Darkness
  • insanity OR madness AND Heart of Darkness
  • Kurtz AND madness

You can also combine different search terms to find articles connecting the two ideas. Unlike Google, library databases work best using connector terms, such as AND, OR, and NOT.

AND OR NOT
  • AND means you are searching both terms together.
  • Searching insanity AND Heart of Darkness will get you results related to both insanity and Heart of Darkness.
  • OR gives you more results.
  • OR tells the database that you want results related to madness OR insanity because those are similar terms that can mean the same thing.
  • NOT excludes terms from your search. 
  • NOT tells the database that you want to search one term, but you want to exclude any results that mention another 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.