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ENG 101 - Argument Essay: Educational Goals (Compton)

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 focus on.  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 topic/thesis, you'll want to continue to look for more sources. As you research, 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 you want to research, think about what particular words might be found in a good article about that topic.  For instance, if you are writing about the limits on personal or public transportation, think of related keywords:

  • public transportation
  • on-campus parking
  • public transportation AND college students
  • ride share OR car pool
  • public transportation NOT taxi

You can also combine different search terms to find articles connecting the two ideas. Unlike Google, library databases work best using connector terms, such as AND, OR, and NOT.

  • AND means you are searching both terms together.
  • Searching public transportation AND college students will get you results related to both public transportation and college students.
  • OR gives you more results.
  • OR tells the database that you want results that are related to either ride shares OR car pool, since those are similar terms that can mean the same thing.
  • NOT excludes terms from your search.
  • Searching public transportation NOT taxi will give you results that are related to public transportation. but will exclude any results that mention taxis.

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.