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FYWB 1500: Reading the Body (Lie-Spahn)

About this Guide

First-Year Writing: Reading the Body
 

Portrait of Nella Larsen
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 "Book a Consultation" button on the left.

 


Image: James Allen, Nella Larsen, 1928. Library of Congress, Harmon Foundation Records, Manuscript Division.

The Research Process

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!

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 boolean modifiers

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