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ENGL 1301 & 1302

Academic Writing and Research

Developing a Topic and Focus

Need assistance with forming search terms? Try:

  • Writing a sentence about your topic.
  • Pull out important words. 
  • Think of other key terms outside of the sentence. 
  • Talk to other people about it - perhaps someone who works in the field. 
  • Use database features to focus your research question. 

Developing Keywords

Make a research question from your topic.

  • For example: "What is currently being done to help conserve the endangered Giant Panda population?"
    • Keywords: conserve and Giant Panda

Think of related words.

  • Conserve: conservation, preservation, protection
  • Giant Panda: panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca (scientific name).

Get searching!

Boolean operators

Boolean Operators are words and symbols that group keywords in specific ways.

  • Use AND to combine several keywords or phrases. Example: “opening credits”  AND typography

  • Use OR to search for information about one term, and also articles about another term. Example: film OR cinema

  • Use NOT to exclude a particular term, word, or subject out of the results. 



  • Group keywords together with quotation marks to search as an exact phrase. Example: “alfred hitchcock”
  • Use the asterisk * if you want to search multiple iterations of a keyword. Example: sequenc* = sequence, sequences, sequencing
  • Use parentheses to direct the database to perform specific operations first. 

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