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ENG 102 - Short Story Research Guide

This step-by-step guide will help you complete your Eng 102 short story assignment.

3. Narrow Your Topic

Narrow SignOnce you've done some initial background reading on your short story, it's time to narrow down what you want to write about.  Remember your assignment requirements and consider what you've read about the story thus far.

Ask yourself - what aspect of the story do I want to focus on? What interests me about the story? What do I want to write about?

As you start to narrow this down into a thesis, you'll want to continue to look for more sources for your paper. As you read, you might tweak or adjust your topic/thesis.

In order to help you find more related sources about your short story topic, you'll want to identify keywords to help you search.


As you think about what concepts you want to write about in your short story, think about what particular words might be in a good article about that concept. 

For instance, an article about the setting of short story might contain the word 'setting' or it might refer to the actual time and place of the story -- say the place is the "South" and the time period is the "Great Depression."  Those might be good keywords for you to pair with the name of the story.  

Another example: If you are writing about the short story "The Story of an Hour," and you're focused on the role of women in marriage, you may want to try these related keywords that may show up in a good source:

  • wife
  • marriage
  • identity
  • selfhood
  • feminist
  • gender roles

Keywords work best by trial-and-error. Never just 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 literature databases with the name of your short story and a keyword to try to relevant articles. And remember to ask a librarian if you want assistance with coming up with keywords or need help looking for sources.

Having Trouble?

It can be hard to find sources!  Sometimes it is because there isn't a lot of information about your short story.  Other times, there might be information on your short story, but not about your short story and the aspect you are interested in.  While this can be challenging, it doesn't mean you should change your topic.  There are a few ways you can find sources you can use for your paper.  

  • Look for any sources regarding your author.  Even if the source doesn't mention your short story, you might be able to use a source that talks about the author, the author's style, or the author's other works.  
  • Look for any source about your story, even if the source doesn't mention the component you are looking for, like foreshadowing.  These sources can give you a better understanding of the story or help you see the author's overall style
  • Look for information about literary criticisms or literary styles.  If you are writing your paper about your short story and symbolism, you could look for sources about symbolism in general.  This can help you better describe what is happening in your story or show how the author is using classic forms of symbolism.

If you are still having trouble finding sources, please ask a librarian and we can help.