Skip to Main Content

ENGL 1212-002: First-Year Writing, The Americas (Watson)

Keyword Concept Map

Book a Consultation

Barnard Personal Librarians are available for research help, citation guidance, questions on accessing items, or any other library related questions. You can meet with us in-person or on Zoom. Click the button below to schedule a consultation (or click this link)

Millie the bear at a computer with a headset, using Zoom with another bear

Research Librarian

Profile Photo
Meredith Wisner
Meredith Wisner
Research & Instruction Librarian for the Arts
Office: 306 Milstein

Mon & Tues: Zoom only
Wed - Fri: In-person/Zoom

About this Guide

Graffiti rendering of Toni Morrison on a wall in SpainWelcome to my research guide for The Americas

Here you will find resources to help you with your first-year writing research. Use the side navigation to find:

  • Resources to find background information on your topic
  • Popular sources, to find research geared toward a general audience
  • Places to find books in print and online
  • Databases for locating scholarly and peer reviewed journal articles
  • Resources for citing your sources and writing
  • Ways to find affordable texts for your classes

You can book a consultation with your Personal Librarian by clicking the "Book a Consultation" at left, or book one with me using the "Schedule Appointment" button in my profile box.

Image: Unknown. Zaratman, [graffiti depicting Toni Morrison in the neighborhood of Aranzabela-Salburua, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain], 2010. Wikimedia Commons.

The Research Process: The Americas

Choosing a topic

Choosing a topic often feels like an impossible first step. It can be helpful to keep your initial topic ideas broad, and then begin honing in on your research question as you encounter new research materials. It is often through the process of research itself that one discovers a research topic.

There is no correct way to do research, but the following guidelines might be useful to keep in mind as you begin:

  • Pick a text that interests you and a theme or idea that you want write about
  • Come up with a preliminary question, but keep it loose
  • Brainstorm some keywords to help you begin your research

Finding background information

  • Use web resources like Wikipedia and Google searches to brainstorm and identify additional keywords for your topic
  • For authoritative reference resources (like scholarly encyclopedias) see the Reference Resources page. These resources:
    • Are written by scholars in their fields, so you can trust the information they provide
    • Give you an overview of your topic,  background information, and help define terms you aren't familiar with
    • Contain bibliographies to help you find more information related to your topic
    • Can help you find more keywords, phrases, people and ideas to further your research

Refining your topic

After gathering your background information, refine your initial topic and question based off of what you learned. A good rule of thumb: if there is an entire book on your topic, it is too broad for a research paper. On the other hand, if the topic can be discussed in a few paragraphs, then it is too narrow.

Example: "The role of women in the plays of Shakespeare" is too broad because hundreds of books and articles have been written on this topic; "The symbolism of Ariel's costume in the Tempest" is likely too narrow because there are not enough books and articles discussing this specific detail.

Remember, don't worry if refining your topic happens more than once!