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Honors 101: Searching

Choosing a Topic

In many ways, the hardest part of research is not the writing, it's not the research itself, it is choosing what you want to write about. Some tips for choosing a topic:

  1. Choose something that interests you. You are more likely to stay engaged with your research and more likely to write a better paper if your topic is of interest to you.
  2. Make sure your topic is neither too broad for you to write about in a manageable way (religion) nor too narrow for you to be able to find supporting resources ("the use of sidewalks by gangs in Mobile, AL") .
  3. Talk to people in your classes to see what other people are writing about; then choose a topic that no one else is using.
  4. Look at current news sites, newspapers, and magazines to find something of interest to you.
  5. Do some background reading on the topics that interest you.

The following sources are all browsable and can help you get some ideas for your papers. They all also give you general information on a topic and provide some ways to help you refine your topic:

Narrowing a Search


The word "AND" can help you combine terms to narrow your topic to a manageable one. When you combine two terms with AND, you are telling a database to look for information that contains BOTH of your terms; in other words you are looking for the area in which the two separate topics intersect.

Broadening a Search


If you find that you are not retrieving a sufficient number of results, your search may be too narrow. Try broadening it using the word "OR." When you use "OR," you are telling a database that it should return results with EITHER word in it; you do not care whether the two words are related in any way.

Excluding Terms


Sometimes you will find, while doing your research, that two concepts intersect in surprising but irrelevant (to your research anyway) ways. The word "NOT" can help you eliminate the irrelevant concept from your results. When you combine terms using "NOT," you are telling a database to not bring back any results if they have the second term in them. Use NOT cautiously as you can actually get rid of relevant results this way.