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FYWB 1113: Critical Conversations: Bodies & Desires (Benjamin)

A guide for resources for Professor Benjamin's Spring 2024 First Year Writing class

About this Guide

Critical Conversations: Bodies and Desires

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

  • Resources to find background information on your topic
  • Places to find books in print and online
  • Databases for locating scholarly and peer reviewed journal articles
  • Resources for citing your sources and writing
  • Remote library services for accessing materials away from Barnard


You can book and appointment using the "Schedule Appointment" button in the profile box.



The Research Process

Choosing a topic

Choosing a topic can be the most challenging part of research. Ideas can really come from anywhere and we have to be open to where are reading and thinking might take us. There is no right way to tackle this part of the process, it can look different for everyone. Here are some suggestions as you begin the process: 

  • Is there a class reading that you've found interesting? Are there  concepts, ideas, or themes you've always found intriguing? These can be great starting points. It's important to know that it's very normal for your topic to change a bit as you conduct your research, so it's important to be flexible.
  • Start thinking about the question you'd like to ask or explore and as you do this and try to generate important words or phrases related to your topic, but be flexible. Create a list of different keywords and phrases you can use to begin your research. If visualizing helps, you write them down on paper, or use a concept map to organize your thoughts. Try out different combinations of the key terms you've developed
  • Use your key terms to search your topic across databases. Use general academic and subject area specific databases and be sure to try out different combinations of your search terms. 
  • Begin familiarizing yourself with background information about the topic. Reference materials are especially helpful for providing context for your topic.


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

At this stage, use what you've learned during the process of gathering background information to broaden or narrow the focus of your topic and research question.

You should ask yourself the 5 Ws and 1 H, or Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? to help you formulate your research question.

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.


You may find that you go through the process of refining your topic more than once. 


Developing Keywords

Why use keywords?

Keywords are terms that describe the topic you are researching. Keywords can be a people, places, things, ideas, or concepts. We need keywords to effectively search in library academic databases (like CLIO or Jstor). Unlike internet browsers, which have developed to understand full questions written in natural language, academic databases use keywords to locate resources. 

There are no perfect searches when using keywords, which is why it's useful to brainstorm lots of related terms and/or synonyms to locate what you are looking for. For example, we might use the word "teenager" to describe a particular population, but the term "youth" might be used in a database instead.  You can also find new keywords once you begin searching in the content section and subject sections of a catalog entry.

Screenshot of a catalog record showing subject and content sections

Using boolean operators and modifiers

Boolean modifiers

Boolean Modifiers can further expand, refine, and improve a search. Boolean modifiers include the asterisk, * (also known as truncation/wildcard searching), (parentheses), and "quotation marks"

  • An asterisk, *, add to the "stem" of a word and searches for any word includes that stem, or the letters before the asterisk. Therefore, you will get results with different endings but all the same stem. See the following example:
    • Searching for stat* will return results with the following words:
      • state, states, statute, statutory, statistic, statistics, stats, statistical, and more!
  • Parentheses, (), are used to contain OR statements. If you want results that return one word out of a group of two or more, you put them between parentheses to ensure that only one of the search terms is returned: (elderly OR aged OR senior citizen).
  • Quotation marks, "", return exactly what you typed inside the quotation marks. Therefore if you search for "state" you will only get results containing the word "state" (even the plural of 'state will not be included in your search results!).

*borrowed from University of Illinois Library's Advanced Library Search Strategies Libguide (

Combining them all...
Examples using combinations of the three operators:
puritans AND women AND (massachusetts OR connecticut OR "rhode island" OR "new hampshire")
(adolescen* OR teen*) AND (cigarettes OR smok*)
reagan AND "star wars" NOT (movie OR film OR cinema OR "motion picture")
"zora neale hurston" AND (correspondence OR letter* OR diar* OR autobiograph* OR memoir*)