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EN 125: College Composition & Research

Welcome to Research!

Step One: What's Your Question?

When you first begin to research, you might have a very specific topic in mind or a faint glimmer of an idea for your paper. Both are perfectly fine places to start. No matter what, you're going to start your research with broad concepts and then narrow it down.

Remember, all research starts with a question. It's your job to try to answer that question.

Sometimes your question might be so big you can't possibly limit yourself to your paper's length requirements. Remember, whole encyclopedias have been written about certain topics! Here are some good examples of research questions:

  • Should college athletes be paid?
  • Should teens in the U.S. adopt the British custom of taking a “gap year” between high school and college?
  • In some European schools, fewer than 10% of students get A’s. Is there grade inflation in the U.S.?
  • Has Title IX helped women’s sports? Has it harmed men’s sports?
  • Are sexual assault incidences on college campuses on the rise or has awareness just increased?

When you're exploring your topic, you'll take the broad concept of your initial question or idea (ie, Title IX, sexual assault on campus, college athletes) and use it as a keyword. This is what you'll type into databases to find books and journal articles.

What’s a Reference Book?

What's a Reference Book?

Reference books take big subjects (for example: the Holocaust, Australia, or Cancer) and break them down into smaller subjects in individual entries. If you’ve ever used World Book, you’ve used a reference book. For your research at the college level, you’ll use more subject specific reference books.

Types of reference works include:

  • encyclopedias on specific topics
  • biographical dictionaries
  • directories (for people and associations)
  • historical atlases and almanacs
  • and more!

All reference books are located on the second floor of the library. You can also use a Research Starter in the URSearch database, or a reference ebook from the library's catalog.

Reference Book Research Tip!

Research Tip!

When you're using a reference book in print, make sure to snap a photo or photocopy the title page and the back of the title page. This is where you'll find all the information for your citation!

(Second Hint: Citations are super important!)