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ENGL 1S/1T, Lewis: Choose a Topic

A guide to library resources for students in Brian Lewis's ENGL 1S/1T class focusing on culture and society.

The Assignment

Understanding Your Assignment

Before you begin your research, you should make sure you understand your assignment. Some good questions are:

How many pages should it be?
How many sources do I need?
What kinds of sources? Books,
   articles, websites? Scholarly or
   popular articles?

In what format should it be

Assignment Calculator

San Jose State's Assignment Calculator is a good resource to help you determine how much time you have to complete various aspects of your research and writing, given your starting date and due date.

Get Background in Encyclopedias

An encyclopedia gives you

  • ways to broaden or narrow a topic
  • ideas for questions to ask
  • keywords and related terms
  • further reading

As an alternative to Wikipedia, try looking in these databases for background information:

The Foothill Library also has dozens of subject encyclopedias in our print reference collection. If you are on campus, stop by and ask the librarian at the reference desk for help.

Choose a Topic That's Interesting to You

Students sometimes try to think of a subject they imagine will be easy, but that strategy can backfire. What are you passionate or curious about? 

Try brainstorming. Set a timer for five minutes and write down every topic you can think of that sounds interesting. Ignore the inner critic that might say things like "That's stupid" or "It will be too hard." After the timer rings, look at your list. Are there any patterns? Does one idea pop out at you?

Need ideas?

Try one of these databases to get ideas for current events and controversial issues.

  • A new report each week on a current issue
  • Click on "Browse Reports" and select "by Topic" from the pull-down menu
  • Different points of view on controversial topics
  • Scan the home page or click on "Browse Issues"

Off-Campus Access

For off-campus access to the online databases and eBooks, you'll need your student ID.

You can also renew your books online from home.

Not Too Broad or Narrow

A broad topic is too general, and the problem is too much information. Examples:

  • Global Warming
  • The Civil War
  • Cancer
  • Gang Violence

To make a topic more specific, you can limit it in one of these ways:

  1. Time
  2. Place
  3. Population

For example, to narrow the topic of gang violence:

  1. Gang violence in the 1920s (time)
  2. Gang violence in San Jose (place)
  3. Gang violence among teenage girls (population)

An encyclopedia can also give you ideas for how to make your topic more specific.

On the other hand, if you have a hard time finding information, your topic is probably too narrow.

The UCLA Library has some good hints on how to narrow a topic and how to broaden a topic.