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ENG 236 African American Literature - Short Story Research Paper

This guide is designed to help you complete a research paper about an African American short story in Ms. Suber's English 236.

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 symbolism of short story might contain the word 'symbolism or symbols' or it might refer to a specific example such as a character's name or a specific object from the story - whatever the symbol itself is.  Those might be good keywords to use by pairing them with the title of the story (example. "Everyday Use" and quilts) or after searching for articles on the story use the Search Within search box to narrow your search with any of those keywords.

Another example: Think of synonyms. If you are writing about the short story "Everyday Use," and you're focused on the theme of heritage, you may want to try these related keywords that may show up in a good source:

  • background
  • roots
  • identity
  • ancestors
  • family
  • traditions

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.