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

ENG 101 - American Dream

This guide provides a starting point for research on the American Dream.

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:

How do I define the American Dream?

What aspect of the American Dream do I want to focus on?

What barriers exist for different groups in society today?

Then consider if you want to focus on a specific population and/or history:

Different Populations: Do you want to focus on the American Dream for a certain group of people.  Perhaps the American Dream exists for certain groups but not others?  Some groups you might consider are gender groups, racial groups, ethnic groups, cultural groups, immigrants or refugees, religious groups, socioeconomic groups, urban/rural groups, or LGBTQ groups. These groups also might have different definitions of what the American Dream is - for example, an native-born American's dream might be different than an immigrant's dream. 

Consider History: Is the American Dream of today the same as it was 100-200 years ago? Has it changed? How has it changed? How have views regarding what it means to be "American" changed? Are there stereotypes involved?

Outline your definition of the American Dream and then brainstorm reasons you believe it does or does not exist. Search for information, facts, and statistics to back up your reasons. 


As you think about what concepts you want to write about, think about what particular words might be found in a good article about that topic.  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 growing gap between the rich and poor, you might think of the following keywords:




You can also combine "American Dream" and some of your search terms to find articles connecting the two ideas. Unlike Google, our databases work best when using connector terms, such as and​ or or. Here are some examples:

"American Dream" and inequality

"American Dream" and poverty

Using quotation marks around phrases like "American Dream" tells the database or search engine that you want to search those two words together as a phrase (rather than two separate words).  You can do this with any phrase - such as:

"standard of living"

And while including "American Dream" in your searches can be helpful, don't feel like you have to use it in every search. Once you've narrowed your topic, expand your search to focus on those factors that you're discussing in your paper. You can explore issues such as poverty, standard of living, the middle class, family structures, home ownership, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, racism, inequality, gender, LGBT rights, etc. Example searches:

"standard of living" and "middle class"

gender and inequality and wealth

race and "voting rights"

"middle class" and "home ownership"

"Freedom of religion" and schools

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

Here are some LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) that may help you find resources for your topic:

  • Equality
  • Income distribution
  • Wealth--United States
  • Gay rights
  • Racism
  • United States--Economic conditions
  • United States--Social conditions
  • Working class
  • Minimum wage

This is just a few examples. If you find a book or article you like, look at the subject headings for that book or article and search on those terms.