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UWS 21a: The Tyranny of Choice

Library resources and research tips for UWS 21a, "The Tyranny of Choice," taught by Pyunghwa Lee in Spring 2019.


Choosing a topic can be a challenging first step in the research process. Put some thought and energy into this step and pick a topic that you are excited to learn more about.

Picking Your Topic IS Research!

This video provides a great, quick overview of how turn your topic into a research paper. "Picking Your Topic IS Research!" by NCSU Libraries is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Kinds of Sources To Look For

You're probably not going to find one perfect source that speaks to every aspect of your topic. Instead, it's useful to think about gathering a variety of sources that help you to gain some perspectives for your own analysis. 

You might look for sources:

  • On the broad topic or theme you are exploring -- free will, choice, fate/destiny
  • On your primary text -- the film, tv series, novel, play, or short story you are using (e.g., Vertigo, The Matrix)
  • On genre or subgenre of text -- drama, dystopian science fiction, film noir, psychological thriller
  • On author/director/creator/company -- Wachowski siblings; Alfred Hitchcock
  • That provide historical context -- turn of the millennium, Y2K, virtual reality, hacker subculture, Generation X

Identifying Key Concepts & Brainstorming Keywords

Before you jump into searching, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes thinking about your research question and brainstorming for keywords that you can use in your searching.

Think about your topic as a research question and then identify the key concepts.

Example research question: How does use of social media affect the grades of undergraduate students?

With this example research question, the key concepts would be:

social media AND grades AND undergraduate students

Once you have identified your keywords, brainstorm for additional terms.

For each of the keywords you recorded in your previous answer, think of synonyms or alternative terms.

Try to think of terms that are broader in meaning, as well as terms that narrower in meaning. These broader terms may help you expand your search if you are not finding enough information, while narrower terms may help you focus your research.

For this example research topic, you might identify these keywords:

social media Facebook, Twitter
grades academic achievement, GPA, academic performance
undergraduate students college students

As you read information about your topic, note the suggested terms that come up in some of the databases. These terms might be good to use in future searches.