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EN 207: Great Books. FYE, Kyle Torke   Tags: block 1  

Last Updated: Aug 27, 2012 URL: Print Guide

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Situating your topic

When starting with a broad topic in mind, it can be a good idea to take a few minutes to brainstorm ideas around your topic. What are some broader concepts that encompass your starting topic? What are some narrower concepts that your topic itself encompasses? By taking a few minutes to do this, you'll generate a wealth of useful keywords for searching library catalogs and databases.

Try this:

  • Take a blank sheet of paper and write your topic in a word or phrase in the middle (don't write too big!). For this exercise, I might write Ancient Greek Music.
  • Now, above that, think of at least three broader terms or concepts. One way to think about it is "what kind of book would have a chapter on my topic?" For my example, I might start with  ancient Greek culture, and the history of music.
  • Below your original word or phrase, now think of three or more narrower terms or concepts. You might think "in a book on my topic, what might some of the chapter titles be?" Or take your original topic and make it more specific by adding another topic. So in my example, I'd start with ancient Greek musical instruments or the use of music in Greek tragedy.
  • Lastly, return to your original topic words. Are there other near-synonyms that you haven't considered? Are there other ways of phrasing your topic? For mine, I'd think about classical instead of ancient and Greece instead of Greek. Computers are dumb, so if you don't match the exact string of letters it has, you won't get a hit.
Now you can start searching. On the other tabs in this guide are links to search for books, articles, and other media. Try starting at any point on your sheet of keywords. If you are getting too many hits, or the results are too broad, move down your sheet to the more specific keywords. If you aren't getting much (or aren't getting anything at all) move up to more general keywords.

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