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FILA 150 After the Scourge Class Guide

Selecting a Topic

For your paper, you'll want to have a subject in mind. Often, what you start with will be too broad or too narrow for a research paper. You will need to choose a unique aspect of a subject in which to specialize your research. To do this you may want to:

  • Look at class notes: is there anything that has been discussed in class that has piqued your interest?
  • Review your textbooks: what important points have been brought up in the text that you can expand on.
  • Read some current events. Because of the coronavirus, pandemics are now very much in the news. As a result, you might very well find an article that is of particular interest to you, and you might like to expand your ideas.

Below are some additional resources to get you started.

Finding Example Topics

Sometimes it can help to see what other people have research. The following resources contain example topics. Even if you don't pick one of their topics, seeing what other people have done can help you brainstorm. 

Just make sure that whatever topic you choose fits with the assignmnet. You can use the strategies mentioned above to make the topic your own. 

Keyword Searching

Keywords are going the terms you will use to search for information. Just typing in your entire topic sentence is not an efficient way to search. Here are some tips for using keywords effectively.

If you are looking for editorials or opinions articles on a topic, include the format in your keywords

Keywords: global warming, editorial

Condense your topic down to the 3 or 4 essential terms. 

Example Topic: "Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and other bands introduced Grunge music to popular audiences and changed rock music in the late 80s early 90s."

Keywords: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Grunge, popular music

Consider synonyms or alternate words to describe your term

Example: "England used Privateers in the New World in order to harass Spain without committing official navy vessels."

Keywords: England, Great Britain, British, Privateers, Pirates, New World, Caribbean, Atlantic


Keep track of the terms and indicate which ones are most successful. This will help you when you go from searching one type of resource to another.

The Basics of Database Searching

In most databases you can narrow down your results by subject area, type of material, or date published. Date published is especially important in for current event topics, like the coronavirus.

In addition, most databases have some built in tools for more precise searching. Try some of these:

Boolean Searching (AND, OR, NOT):

These three operators allow you to combine search terms and search more efficiently 

  • AND will produce results that contain BOTH terms (e.g. AIDS AND Africa)
  • OR generates results that contain EITHER term (e.g. AIDS OR Africa)
  • NOT results will include the first terms, but not the second (AIDS NOT Africa)

The first example will provide only articles that contain AIDS and Africa in them, which helps to narrow the focus of your search. The second brings up articles with either AIDS or Africa but not necessarily both (you might end up with articles about cheetahs). This can be useful if you topic has multiple terms that could describe it. 

The third removes Africa from the results and only shows those AIDS articles that don't use the term Africa at all. Use care when using NOT as an operator. In the above example our intent may have been articles that focus on AIDS in other parts of the world, but an article about AIDS in the US that has the sentence: "AIDS was first discovered in Africa" will not show up!


Symbols like *, ?, or ! may be used at the end of words or in the middle of words so that you can search all their different variances at once.

For example, astro* can search for astronomy, astronomer, astronaut all at the same time. Also col!r might allow you to search for the term with its American (color) and British (colour) spelling.

Wildcards differ between the databases, but their "help" documentation will provide you a list and their meanings.

Phrase Searching:

Quotation marks will isolate a phrase. For example, "natural selection" results in resources that contain only that specific phrase. If you, instead, searched simply for natural selection, the results would be any resources that contain the word "natural," the word "selection," and the phrase natural selection. Using phrase searching ensures that you are searching for exactly what you need.

Subject or Thesaurus Terms:

Often databases utilize a standard list of terms to describe articles, so all the material on a specific topic has the same subject terms, and sits in the same box. For example a database may assign the subject term "Moving picture" to articles that use the terms "movies," "films," or "cinema" in their full text. Once you know what term they used, you can search by subject and bring up ALL of the information on a topic. It can help you save time so you aren't constantly searching for alternate terms or synonyms. Most databases give you the option to search or browse through their subject terms before you search.

Field Searching:

Databases store information in separate fields. Searching for Edgar Allan Poe in the Author Field will give you different results than if you search for him in the Subject field.

Databases organize information into fields like an Excel or Access datasheet. Searching for Poe in the author field will only bring up articles that he has wrote. Searching in the subject field brings up all the articles about him. Below is an example of some of the different fields you might see.