Chat with a Librarian
Skip to Main Content
ask a librarian email questions

ENG 101 - How Americans View Academics and Intelligence (Settle)

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.

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 thesis, you'll want to continue to look for more sources. As you read, 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 were discussed in the article you read, write down some relevant terms that might be found in a good article about that topic. It helps to surround search phrases with quotation marks. This lets the computer know you are searching for that specific phrase. Unlike Google, in the Library's databases it helps to use the connecting words such as and or or between terms.

For the article, "How America Turned Against Smart Kids," some terms to start searching might be:

"gifted students" and classroom

"anti-intellectual" and "United States"

"anti-intellectualism" and "United States"

For the article, ""This Is Why Finland Has the Best Schools," some terms to start searching might be:

"class size"

"standardized testing"


"physical activity" and learning

"teaching methods"

​"progressive education"

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.

Subject Headings

LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) can be a very helpful way to find information. Here are some subject headings that might be helpful for this assignment:

  • School reform
  • Educational change
  • Educational tests and measures
  • Progressive education
  • Active learning
  • Student-centered learning
  • Anti-intellectualism--United States
  • Gifted students
  • Education of gifted students
  • Gifted and talented education

There may be other subject headings that are useful. If you have a good source, look at its subject headings and you may find other similar resources using those subject headings.