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ENGL 100

Featuring Library resources which may be useful for completing an ENGLISH 100 University Writing research essay.

Research - Topics & Keywords

Writing an essay requires you to answer a research question.

How does _____ contribute to _____?  Or, What is the impact of ____ on ____? (What is the impact of poverty on mental health in adulthood? Can frequent social media use make you more narcissistic?  Can community programs be used to reduce depression amongst teens?)

How you choose to answer your research question is up to you, but your response to the question should be backed by research that shows evidence to support or oppose the views being expressed.

Searching successfully requires you to carefully consider the words and phrases most likely to be associated with your topic. Before you begin your search for information, take time to brainstorm the keywords you will include as your search terms. Keep in mind that the language you might use to describe a topic may differ from the language used by experts when publishing their research, so it is important to consider synonyms or terms related to your topic.

Research Question: Does increased use of social media by teenagers lead to narcissistic personalities?

Rather than type our entire research question into a tool like OCtopus, we should instead consider how to represent our topic in a way the search tools are more likely to understand. The table below illustrates how a question might be broken down into its most important topics or concepts or ideas. When working with ideas that may be represented by more than one word or phrase, we can use OR to indicate to the search that we are interested in seeing results that include at least one of the terms.

Idea A: Social Media Idea B: Narcissism Idea C: Teenagers

"social media" OR Facebook

narcissism OR vanity OR egotistical teenage OR youth OR adolescent
Writing a research essay is similar to telling a fact-based story. Think to yourself:

What do I want to tell my reader? A thesis should tell the purpose of the paper.

You would never build a house without a blue-print, so why would you write an essay without one? Build the scaffolding before filling in the details. Break out topics and sections first so you know where your paper is going, and you know your research needs. 

Identify your keywords before searching. Use a thesaurus to come up with synonyms for the same word to expand search results.

Find a good article? Check the citations or reference list and search OCtopus to find the articles used by the author.


  • Use KEYWORDS, avoid phrases that include filler words such as, of, the, it, if, are.
  • Words that contain multiple concepts require quotation marks to be processed as a PHRASE. For example, "Global Warming", "Child Welfare".
  • AND, OR, and NOT will improve your search results. These are BOOLEAN search terms used to join more than one search concept. 


Try using one to four important words or phrases which describe your topic.

Tip: use quotation marks around phrases, for example

"social media"

Try using alternative words or phrases:

  • synonyms
  • broader or more general terms 
  • narrower or more specific terms
  • related terms

Ideas for Topics: Controversial Issues

Try the following sources if you're looking for controversial issues for possible topics:

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