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ENG 101 - Popular Culture (Watts)

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 write about.  Remember your assignment requirements and consider what you've read thus far. As you're researching, select your primary source - the artifact/example of popular culture that you're going to structure your paper around.

Ask yourself:

What aspect of popular culture do I want to focus on?

​What category or genre does it fall in?

What interests me about this popular culture topic?

Why is/was it so popular and how has it influenced society? Was it a positive or negative influence? 

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

Remember you're looking for these specific outside sources:

Outside source 4: What genre is your pop culture item and what are its influences on society?

Outside source 5: Find an academic source that supports your argument about popular culture. (There are search tools in the databases which will filter your results to just academic journal articles).

After you have analyzed your primary source and secondary sources, you will discuss your pop culture choice and the impact it has/had on society and whether the impact was a positive or negative impact.

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


As you decide what concepts you want to write about, think about what particular words might be found in a good article about that topic.  For instance, if you are writing about the t.v. show American Idol as your popular culture artifact, think about related words that might bring up articles related to the aspects you want to explore.

It helps to surround search phrases with quotation marks. This lets the computer know you are searching for that specific phrase. For example, for general background material on the show, you could search:

"American Idol"

Then, if you want to find more specific information, you can combine search terms to find specific aspects about the popularity of American Idol. Unlike Google, our databases work best when using connector terms, such as and​ or or. Here are some examples:

"American Idol" and influence

"American Idol" and society

"American Idol" and popularity

​For information about popular culture, remember that it is sometimes referred to as "pop culture." Some example searches:

"pop culture"

"popular culture"

"pop culture" or "popular culture" (this lets you search both at the same time)

"popular culture" and influence

"popular culture" and history

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.