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PHIL 4050 - Senior Thesis Seminar (FALL 2023)

A resource guide for senior thesis writers in Philosophy

About this guide


This guide includes useful resources to support the research and writing process
for your senior thesis in philosophy.
In this guide you'll find the following:  

  • Reference sources to find background information on your topic
  • Catalogs and e-book collections to search for books in print and online
  • Databases for locating scholarly journal articles and suggestions for finding appropriate databases for your topic in CLIO 
  • Research tips to help you with refining or expanding your research focus and organizing materials for writing once you find them
  • Information and reference material about correct use of formatting styles and citation management

If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms, or strategies, please schedule a research consultation


Choosing A Topic

Figuring out what you want to write about is often the hardest part of your work. Ideas may 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.

Generating Search Terms

Developing keywords, or search terms, is a good first step to starting your research. 

The purpose of this is to develop a language for describing your topic. We have to figure out how best to talk about our topic in order to do fruitful searches in the library catalog, databases, and on the Internet.

The process of developing keywords can be as simpl as generating a list of synonyms, but you may also find yourself thinking about related topics, themes, people, or events to create a list of words that you can then combine them to try to find what you are looking for. 

Once you generate your search terms, you can use then interchangeably across platforms. 

You can also use Library of Congress subject headings that are assigned to books, journals, and other published materials to find helpful search terms.

Searching with 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*)

These guides are a good place to start when thinking about research and writing.