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ENGL 1301 -- Research Essay (Prof. Henely)

The purpose of this research guide is to teach students in Prof. Henely's ENGL 1301 class how to find information for their research essays and cite those sources correctly in the MLA style.


What is your research topic?

Once you have chosen a topic and have Prof. Heneley's approval for that topic, the next step for you to take is to generate keywords. Keywords are the search terms that you will use to find information about your topic. This video explains how to compose keywords from your topic.

Your first step is to read the essay in your textbook that you are analyzing. I stress this because I often see students attempting to research a topic that they can't yet define. As part of this research process, you're going to encounter a lot of potential sources of information. It will be difficult for you to determine if a source of information is useful for an analysis of your author if you haven't read your author yet. So read your author first. Then start this research process.

Take your time to carefully develop keywords for your research topic. Your research will be easier if you do so.

Let's look at an example. One of the readings that you can choose to write about is Barbara Ehrenreich's "Serving in Florida."  One of the methods of literary criticism that you can use is gender studies. You can start with a very broad perspective about the work in question:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich and Florida

Searching will lead you to learn that "Serving in Florida" is not a stand-alone work, but a selection from Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. Thus it is a good idea to look for writings about this Ehrenreich book of which "Serving in Florida" is a small part. Try searching for:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich and Nickel and Dimed

Now let's work your method of literary criticism into our keyword scheme:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich and Nickel and Dimed and gender

What about analysis of Ehrenreich's understanding of gender outside of Nickel and Dimed? You wouldn't want to miss articles about that topic, thus also try searching for:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich and gender

Databases and More Keywords

Finding More Keywords from the Databases

Research is a gradual process and that process doesn't always go in a straight line. Often, you will find, sources of information on your topic teach more about that topic. As you learn more, you think of additional keywords.

It's hard to develop keywords about a subject you don't understand. For example, if you're going to analyze a work of literature from the perspective of gender studies, it would be helpful for you to know something about gender studies. To do so, we're going to explore one of the library's databases.

 If you don't have recent experience with our library's databases, then I suggest watching this introductory video.

How to Use Credo Reference

Search the database Credo Reference to find background information about your author and your theoretical perspective. So, to follow our example, you can search for:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich
  • gender studies

This last search for gender studies is especially important. Find some short articles describing your theoretical perspective. You can also look for words that are related to gender studies, such as:

  • gender
  • feminism
  • women

All of these are search terms that you may wish to consider for your later database searching.

Have you used Credo Reference before? If not, then I suggest watching this brief video tutorial.

Now just below this video you can find a link to the database Credo Reference. Use it to find information for your topic.

Finding Database Articles about Your Topic

How to Find Database Articles about Your Topic

It is now time to look for in-depth sources of information about your topic. The database Academic Search Complete is ideal for this purpose. It contains newspaper, magazine, and scholarly journal articles on a wide variety of topics. To continue our example, I suggest keywords about your author, the written work in question, and the theoretical perspective that you are using. These would include:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich and Nickel and Dimed
  • Barbara Ehrenreich and Nickel and Dimed and gender
  • Barbara Ehrenreich and gender
  • Barbara Ehrenreich and feminism

Let's apply your keywords to the database Academic Search Complete. Have you used this database before? If not, then I suggest watching this tutorial video.

Just below this video you can find a link to the database Academic Search Complete.

MLA Documentation

You must cite your sources according to the MLA style of documentation.

This is our video that introduces MLA documentation. I urge you to watch the entire video carefully before starting to write your paper. It is much easier to cite correctly as you go along, rather than try to fix your documentation after you have written your paper.

This is our sample paper. You can model the formatting of your paper after this one. If you are unsure how to set up the formatting in Microsoft Word so that it fits the requirements for MLA formatting, you could instead download this blank Word document that has the formatting already set up for you.

This is our 2-page handout that summarizes the MLA style. It includes most of the types of sources that students commonly use.

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