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Syracuse University Libraries

Library Research Guide for ENL 213

Refine Research Topics

1. Read "How to Refine Research Topics and Generate Search Terms" section.

2. Complete the "Choosing and Using Keywords" tutorial.

3. Complete Part 1 of the Research Practice Worksheet.

How to Refine Topics and Generate Search Terms

Research starts with a topic or a question. What do you want to learn more about? Once you have a basic topic, you will need to spend some time deciding exactly what you want to learn about it and describing it in a way that makes it possible to find information about it. This is called refining your topic.

For example, let's say you're interested in writing a paper about social media. Here are some questions you could ask yourself:

1. What?: What about social media interests you (e.g., user behavior, ethics, technology, specific apps)?

2. Where?: Is there a particular location you want to focus on (e.g., United States, Asia)?

3. When?: What time period do you want to focus on (e.g., present day, five years ago)?

4. Who?: What population would you like to focus on (e.g., teenagers, college students, adults, men/women)?

5. Why?: What is important about your research? What will it help us understand (e.g., impact on society, mental health, etc.)?


Once you've answered these questions, you can begin to think about keywords for a search. For example:

"social media" AND "college students"

TikTok AND censorship AND India


ACTIVITY: Complete the tutorial below and then complete Part 1 of the Research Practice Worksheet.

Choosing and Using Keywords Tutorial (Log-In Required)

Additional Resources